Just like that, the Rangers and Devils have no more preseason meetings left to speak of, following two games over three days and a stop in each team's building. The purpose of them, of course, was evaluation, and getting everybody tuned up to start a hockey season. But after 120 minutes between two rivals in which so many new faces, some physicality here, some elite skill there, took turns grabbing the spotlight, who could be blamed for double-checking the schedule to remind themselves when these teams meet again, for real next time?
For the record: Oct. 17.
As David Quinn pointed out after last night's exhibition match, there are many steps to take between here and then. "I think everybody at this point in time wants to get their team together and play the real games," the Head Coach said, "but we've still got a few exhibition games to go. So we've got to let the process play out, give people an opportunity to show what they can do at this level, and soon enough we'll be in that position."
"Of course, it's always a priority to play these guys," Jesper Fast of the Devils. "But right now you just start focusing on getting better. I mean, it was the first game for a lot of us here. Just got to learn and get better."
After Artemi Panarin, Jacob Trouba, Kaapo Kakko and others played their first games in Blueshirts on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden, Friday night was indeed the first action for most of the Rangers who traveled over the Hudson for this one, with all but one of them playing their first game of the 2019 Preseason. Seeing the most action of all was Henrik Lundqvist, who in manning an NHL net for the first time in more than five months was greeted by a breakaway in the game's opening minute, then, as his coach said afterward, only got more and more settled in his crease as the game went along.
True to the plan, Lundqvist took the start and played the game's first half, and he finished with 21 saves in his 30:20 of action. Adam Huska took it the rest of the way and added 15 saves in the Rangers' 4-2 loss.
"I'm happy with all the action that I saw for 30 minutes," Lundqvist said. "I'll get a lot of feedback and watch video and try to improve things."
Of his team as a whole, Quinn said: "After they went up 1-nothing, I thought we did a lot of good things. I thought we kind of had some good chances, we were controlling the play territorially, and just couldn't capitalize."
Most of the Devils on the ice had already put a preseason game under their belt earlier in the week, and in contrast to the Rangers, many of their top players were put in the lineup for this one after sitting out Wednesday's Garden matchup -- including Jack Hughes, who scored on that early breakaway, plus P.K. Subban and also Taylor Hall, playing for the first time since December because of a knee injury.
During the Devils' three-goal first period, Fast said it felt to him and others like the first game in five months. "The tempo and the intensity always a little bit high in these types of games. So first game, you feel like it takes you one or two seconds longer to make decisions," said Fast, whose line, along with Ryan Strome and Filip Chytil, still produced some of the Rangers' better shifts in that early going. "And I mean, you just got to work on that. It gets better and better."
"You can see as the game moved on I thought we played better and better," Lundqvist said, "and I think that's pretty natural when it's your first game for most of us."
The Rangers outscored the Devils following that somewhat frenetic first, Vlad Namestnikov scoring on a second-period tuck-in off of Brett Howden's faceoff win, and then Howden on a crafty power-play redirection of Joe Morrow's shot in the third, after Vinni Lettieri had won a prolonged puck battle near the blue line. Pavel Buchnevich, Joey Keane and Joe Morrow each had assists.
Facing most of the Devils' top power-play unit this time, the Rangers killed off six of seven New Jersey power plays.
When it came to the game's more physical aspects, Ryan Lindgren was front-and-center there, the 21-year-old blueliner standing in with Devils newcomer Wayne Simmonds throughout the game, beginning with a first-period scrap in which Simmonds was assessed an extra minor for a crosscheck on Lindgren.
"I like to play a physical game, and he's a competitive guy too, obviously," Lindgren said. "It's just part of hockey."
"You're talking about a net-front battle that, you know, emotions run high, and somebody crosschecks you, you react to it," Quinn said, echoing Lindgren by adding: "That's hockey."
And that's just preseason hockey. In less than one month's time, back here on this same rink, it'll mean much more. In the meantime, the Rangers will head to Philadelphia on Saturday for the third game on their preseason schedule, and Quinn suggested earlier on Friday that his roster against the Flyers would be something of a mashup of the players who played in the Rangers' first two games.
"We all have a couple more games before the regular season starts," Fast said, "so it's early, early."