With the Rangers holding on to a one-goal lead late in the third period Sunday night in Tampa, there was rookie defenseman Conor Allen taking a regular shift, in his NHL debut, trying to help the visitors close it out. That alone should tell you how well his first game in the National Hockey League went for the 23 year-old who was recalled from the Hartford Wolf Pack just two nights ago and had practiced only once with the Rangers prior to making his debut.
"He was one of our better D, he outplayed some of the other guys and he deserved to be out there," Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said of Allen. "He was poised with the puck, wasn't afraid to take a hit to make a play, and that's why he got that ice time."
Allen, whose first shift as an NHL defenseman came 2:12 into the first period while his first shot on goal followed several minutes later, logged nearly 16 minutes of ice time---15:47 on the night. He was on ice for Valteri Filppula's gorgeous redirection that cut the Rangers lead to 4-3 at 8:14 of the third period, but had earned his coach's trust by that point and finished in strong fashion, receiving further shifts as the game progressed to a nerve-wracking finish for the visitors.
Vigneault played Allen nearly twice as much as Justin Falk, and almost as much as Michael Del Zotto. Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, and John Moore all played well over 20 minutes each to lead Rangers defensemen.
Despite showing so much poise on Sunday, Allen still seemed pretty wide-eyed in the postgame locker room.
"It's fun to be a guy that they trust," Allen said with a smile on his face. "(The Lightning) had some really talented forwards we were playing against, and I tried not to think about it too much, just rely on my instincts out there."
"I still can't believe that I just got dressed next to (Ryan) McDonagh, or went out to dinner with (Ryan Callahan). It's just crazy I am doing this stuff! Hopefully that wears off, or hopefully it doesn't actually!"
Allen said that he was very nervous during his first shift, but that after he was a couple of shifts into the game his nerves quieted down and he was able to simply play his game.
"That second shift I thought I had a really strong one, and Rick Nash came up to me and gave me a pat on the butt and said Good Job, keep playing confidentally," explained Allen in the postgame dressing room. "I think that just kind of got me more into the game, and I stopped thinking about my nerves. Once I got into the game, it just felt like a regular game."
What happens next for Conor Allen is still unknown as it is not believed Anton Stralman will require a long stay on the sidelines with his sore left hand/wrist, and Marc Staal is closing in on a return to the Rangers lineup, as well. When those two veterans return the Rangers will have eight defensemen on the roster, with the coaches more comfortable in carrying only seven, so some decisions will need to be made.
However, for now, Allen can feel real good about the first game he played in the National Hockey League, and how contributed to a solid 4-3 road win Sunday night in Tampa.