It was kind of eerie to be back at the Garden last night for the Rangers' first exhibition game of a much anticipated season. That it came against the Devils was probably a good thing because it definitely kept interest.
Not surprisingly, when the two teams came out for the warmup, the Devils were booed and the Rangers got a pretty good reception considering that the place wasn't packed. But it still was a decent turnout.
As for the game itself, it was pretty good. There was an edge despite several regulars for each team including the two starting netminders being out.
Maybe that's what happens when these teams get together no matter what the occasion is. Or maybe it's got something to do with Ranger antagonist Sean Avery. Just watching him warm-up circling around the ice, you got the feeling he would make this meaningless game interesting by spicing things up.
Not surprisingly, Avery did just that by shoving Devil defenseman Johnny "5" Oduya into ex-Ranger Kevin Weekes drawing an interference minor and injuring the new Devils backup who landed hard and was tended to several minutes before limping off the ice. You hoped the classy guy would be okay but the way he looked, it sure didn't seem that way. Fans clapped as he left and a few including myself chanted "Weekes."
I sure hope he isn't out long. If you're Lou Lamoriello, you are keeping your fingers crossed. Jordan Parise didn't play badly but he looked a little out of place on pucks behind the net scrambling around and giving up a couple of goals down low. That btw was where Tom Renney's club had the clear edge against half of the New Jersey D core minus the injured Colin White, Vitali Vishnevski and Karel Rachunek.
In particular, second-year forward Ryan Callahan who netted an easy two-man advantage goal with a vacant net and rookie pivot Brandon Dubinsky created chaos all night along with Avery who was very visible even after the Weekes injury.
Despite seeing one of their new teammates go down, the best the Devils could offer in terms of retaliation were a couple of good hits as well as a dirty charging penalty Mike Rupp and a cheap elbow by Dainius Zubrus. What would you expect? He'll be easy to despise because he's a dirty player.
One would've figured a Devil might actually challenge Avery and fight him. They also had Grant Marshall in the lineup who was busy renewing acquaintanaces with a slimmed down Darius Kasparaitis. But despite Avery having his name chanted by the Ranger faithful and playing his usual chippy game driving his new favorite target nuts, there wasn't one scrap which can only be summed up one way. Disappointing.
Especially when you consider that the Rangers dressed Hartford nutcase Francis Lessard. Ryan Hollweg banged some bodies and Dane Byers who netted the first PPG by parking himself in front of the net for a rebound took the body.
Outside of Rupp, only David Clarkson mixed it up with a few solid hits and some hustle.
Zach Parise scored a beautiful goal using and abusing Kasparaitis before roofing a shot shortside on Stephen Valiquette. He was the Devils' best forward.
Kaspar who is trying to comeback after getting in great shape by shedding some extra weight and changing his hairstyle struggled. He did look faster but also was a little indecisive in his end turning it over a couple of times.
If he showed rust, the rest of a Ranger D which was without almost all the regulars with the exception of steady second-year player Daniel Girardi were solid.
In particular, Girardi and Marc Staal worked well together which had to be encouraging for the staff and fans. Staal didn't look out of place nor make any glaring mistakes.
Also not doing a bad job was Michael Sauer. The former second rounder had a solid camp and is getting a look.
Vet Jason Strudwick and pickup Andrew Hutchinson (Carolina) also got time and did alright.
Aside from a puckhandling gaffe behind his own net which led to a Zubrus unassisted tally, former No.1 pick Al Montoya looked sharp in his half of action turning aside 12 of 13.
Ex-2003 first round selection Hugh Jessiman took part getting third line duty. The project was up and down. On some shifts, the ex-Dartmouth product used his size to recover pucks along the wall and cycle. But he also took a lazy holding penalty. You can tell he still needs time in Hartford. And that's where he'll be.
Russian Artem Anisimov showed some excellent speed and didn't look out of place centering Avery and Callahan registering four shots and creating some opportunities. But he did also get caught napping on a downlow coverage which led to the 2006 second round pick taking a minor to prevent a Devil goal.
If you were comparing his performance to Dubinsky who was very active and registered a couple of assists, the Alaskan who played last year with the Wolf Pack would have the edge.
Marty Straka scored what turned out to be the winner and skated fine showing no ill effects from offseason surgery. Brendan Shanahan looked alright.
The Ranger PP looked dangerous in this game moving the puck quickly and keeping the Devils off balance for two PPG.
The Ranger PK did a solid job against a Devil power play which overpassed the puck and looked tenative without Jamie Langenbrunner (injured) and ex-Devils Scott Gomez and Brian Rafalski. They'll hope Rachunek can help there. Paul Martin just isn't cutting it.
Former Devils' 2006 first rounder Matt Corrente was okay but definitely needs another year of development.
Finn Jari Viuhkola wasn't really noticeable.
All in all, this preseason tilt kept our interest for the most part due to how the rosters competed. But we still came away a little disappointed that there were no fisticuffs which we're sure Gary Bettman and his cronies who put together these new jerseys which apparently come apart during scraps (just ask Cam Janssen) thanked God for.
The Rangers are back in action tonight against the Flyers. Expect some different players to suit up.