The pre-season came to a close in an unfamiliar setting for the Rangers Friday night, though unfortunately with some increasingly familiar issues and result. Playing their fourth game in five nights out west, the Rangers dropped a 4-1 decision to the Los Angeles Kings at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, bringing the curtain down on a 1-5-0 pre-season.
The Rangers will fly back to New York for a day off on Saturday, and on Sunday head coach Alain Vigneault will announce cuts as the Rangers trim their roster down for the start of the regular season, which begins for the Blueshirts next Thursday in Phoenix. Prior to Friday's game Vigneault had stated that "three or four players were fighting for two spots" on the roster, and that the contest to be the team's seventh defenseman was going down to the wire between Justin Falk, Stu Bickel, and rookie Conor Allen.
It was difficult to see many Rangers distinguish themselves on Friday, though J.T. Miller did score his second goal in three pre-season games, Bickel engaged in a heavyweight bout with LA's Jordan Nolan, Jesper Fast played a smart two-way game, Oscar Lindberg earned his first point of the pre-season by assisting on Miller's goal, and Allen confidently joined the rush from the back end on a regular basis.
But overall it was a tough night for the Blueshirts, who allowed Anze Kopitar's goal just 15 seconds into the game and never were able to pull even, much less take a lead, the rest of the night. The Kings scored a pair of power play goals, and the Rangers were caught more than once out of position in their own end of the ice.
One true highlight was the team's spirited kill of Brandon Mashinter's double minor midway through the second period. For four minutes the Kings pressed in the ofensive zone, but the Rangers did not allow a single shot on goal, and blocked four shots during the sequence, including a pair by Brian Boyle.
Twenty-four hours after surrendering five goals on 17 shots over two periods in Vancouver, Henrik Lundqvist was beaten three times in the opening period on Friday night---once on Kopitar's breakaway on the game's first shift. He settled in and finished the game, making several big saves as the game progressed, including two on the same Tanner Pearson breakaway late in the middle period. Later in the third stanza Lundqvist stared down a wide-open Pearson in the slot for another quality stop.
The Rangers closed out the pre-season with four straight losses, and were outscored in exhibition play 22-9. However, as Lundqvist pointed out Thursday night, this was just the pre-season, the results do not count, though the Rangers have things to get in order before that first game next week against the Coyotes. That process begins with practice on Sunday, when a familair face---that of Derek Stepan---rejoins his teammates to prepare for the games that will really count, and the long 82-game journey commences.
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