Photo Credit: Getty Images/Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photo
First off let me just say how thrilled I am to finally be talking about an actual NHL game and not just some lead up to a game. Hockey is finally back and a return to normal finally feels a bit possible. Having said that, the Rangers played their first and only tune up game in Toronto before the qualifiers begin on Saturday against Carolina. The Blueshirts offense was only able to muster one goal in a 2-1 loss to their longtime rival Islanders but there were still a lot of bright spots to take from this loss.
First and foremost, Kaapo Kakko looks like a man on a mission for this return to play. I have already said on Talking Blueshirts that I believe Kakko finding his scoring touch could be the difference for the Rangers being a one and done or having a long postseason run. Last night he was playing like a man possessed, taking shot after shot and not just your garden variety shots, but shots that forced Varlamov to lock in and make some big saves. Kakko’s skating looked noticeably better than it ever did at any point during the regular season. To say he had a spring in his step would be a massive understatement.
To pair with Kakko’s strong game, Filip Chytil managed to jump off the screen creating some good chances and registering the Rangers lone goal. I really thought that despite not seeing the ice for some long stretches due to the Rangers lack of discipline, a Chytil was able to string some really strong shifts together which really bodes well for the Blueshirts playoff fortunes if Zibanejad, Strome, and Chytil are all going at once.
As we already know for the Rangers the goalie situation is already murky at and last night I think David Quinn’s job got a bit harder. Igor Shesterkin started the game and played well in his near 30 minutes of action but he really wasn’t tested too much outside of the three PK’s the Rangers had in the first period. Once Lundqvist came in after the Beauvillier goal, whatever team defense the Rangers had been playing in front of Shesterkin seemed to magically wear off. Lundqvist faced 7 shots almost immediately and was up to the task stopping them all. The only blemish on the King’s record was a perfect shot by Devon Toews besting Hank to his blocker side. All in all, Quinn will have a more difficult time naming the starter for noon game one against Carolina. From what we saw last night it appears the Rangers can not go wrong with either option in net.
Perhaps the biggest plus for the Rangers though was the stellar play of Jacob Trouba last night. For a guy who had an up and down season to say the least to see Trouba finally settle in and play the hockey many ya saw when he was in Winnipeg was a huge sight for sore eyes. Up until the trade of Brady Skjei we had not seen the Trouba that many Ranger fans thought they would be getting. After Skjei was shipped to Carolina it seemed to unlock something in Trouba’s game and he hasn’t looked back. If we continue to see the Trouba that we got last night then the Rangers will have found that stabilizing blueline force that they lost when they shipped Ryan McDonagh to Tampa Bay.
Even though most Rangers fans are tempted to jump off the highest building they can find after losing to the Islanders in an exhibition game, remember there were a ton of positives to come out of this. If there’s one thing we all know to, it’s that David Quinn and his staff will have learned from this and have the Rangers primed for puck drop on Saturday afternoon and the Carolina Hurricanes.