Wednesday night was supposed to be a tune-up, but the New York Islanders looked like a well-oiled machine in a 2-1 win over the New York Rangers in exhibition play from Toronto.
Anthony Beauvillier and Devon Toews scored for the Isles, who held the NHL's fifth-highest scoring team to one goal in both team's lone exhibition game before this weekend's qualifiers.
"I thought we had really good pace in our scrimmages back in New York. It was easy to translate that to today's game," Beauvillier said. "We're just trying to get ready for Saturday for the real bullets. It'll help everyone for games moving forward."
The Islanders and Rangers certainly didn't look like they had five months off, as both teams came out fast for Wednesday's exhibition contest. The teams played to a scoreless first period, with the Isles out-attempting the Rangers 19-14, though the Blueshirts held a 12-6 SOG advantage.
While it didn't reach levels of playoff physicality, Johnny Boychuk and Brendan Lemieux injected a little Isles-Rangers animosity with a first period fight.
The Isles' game only improved as the night went on as their defensive structure appeared to be intact. The Islanders held the Rangers without a shot on goal for a 10-minute stretch in the second period, during which Beauvillier gave the Isles a 1-0 lead.
Beauvillier picked up a superb stretch pass from Andy Greene (who was one of eight defenseman to play on Wednesday), before keeping, shooting and scoring short side on Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin at 9:15. Beauvillier, who plays some of his best hockey vs the Rangers, finished the game with a team-high seven shot attempts.
"I thought that whole line was really good," Trotz said. "Beau was really dangerous with his speed, he was on pucks and scored that goal. He was quite engaged. I really liked that line, they were a real solid line for us tonight."
Brock Nelson led the Isles with 18:19 TOI and won 71% of his face-offs. Josh Bailey skated 17:02 with two shot attempts, a blocked shot and two giveaways.
The Isles kept the pressure on in the third period, as Toews used a burst of speed to turn a Derick Brassard stretch pass into a breakaway before beating Henrik Lundqvist far side at 15:35. Filip Chytil put the Rangers on the board late, but that was as close as they came.
"As the game went on I felt we got to our game a little it more," Trotz said. "We wanted to do certain things against the Rangers and hopefully Florida going forward. It was a good first step for us."
Barry Trotz tried out six wingers on the left side of JG Pageau during training camp in what was probably the most wide-open competition for a spot over the two weeks.
Ross Johnston got the first crack alongside Pageau and Brassard on Wednesday night, skating on the third line vs the Rangers. Johnston was solid, recording an assist and a game-high seven hits in 9:26 TOI.
Trotz was impressed with Johnston's speed and physical presence, comparing the big-bodied winger to Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson after the game. With Trotz choosing to play 12 forwards and eight defensemen, it's possible that Johnston gets a crack at the lineup in Game 1 vs Florida on Saturday.
VARLAMOV ROBS FAST, BOTH GOALIES SOLID IN RETURN:
Semyon Varlamov and Thomas Greiss were both solid in net on Wednesday night, as each saw action. Varlamov started the game and stopped all 19 shots he saw in 40 minutes of action. Greiss stopped seven of eight.
Varlamov said it took a few minutes and shots to get adjusted to game speed and the lack of stimulus in the building, but he settled in nicely.
"The first period was kind of tough for me. I haven't played 4-on-4 for a while. Then I made up a couple saves and started feeling more confident," Varlamov said. "It's going to take some time to get used to. It was a different experience playing with no fans."
The Russian netminder delivered some highway robbery on Jesper Fast with a pair of point-blank saves, including a two-pad stack, early in the second period.
"Old school style never gets old," Varlamov said of his Tretiak impression. "So sometimes you have to make the save whatever it takes."
Before the game Trotz said he was more or less settled on his starter for Saturday and if he's thinking Varlamov, he should have no qualms given the goalie's performance. Trotz re-iterated that he'll be comfortable with either goalie.
"My goaltending with Varly and Greisser, we're pretty set," Trotz said. "I'm looking and the schedule is not normal. We're playing a back to back. I have the luxury of using both. I have the luxury of starting either one in Game 1… I could throw a dart at a dartboard and I'd feel comfortable."
The next one counts, as the Isles and Panthers play Game 1 of a best-of-five Stanley Cup Qualifier series. Puck drop is at 4 p.m.