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Recap: Panarin & Power Play Are Electric In Rangers' Preseason Opener

by Michael Obernauer

Broadly speaking, preseason games are an opportunity for a club to try some things out, give different players a look, and generally learn about what they have heading into a season.

The Rangers' preseason opener on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden offered the rest of the League what could be an important lesson: When facing the Blueshirts, best to steer clear of the penalty box.

Those were the very early returns on a revamped power play that, if you're looking only at the box score, finished a pedestrian 1-for-4 but, if you're looking at the action, provided seven of the game's most scintillating - and for the Rangers, promising - minutes of play. It also provided the showstopper on this night, whose name is Artemi Panarin, and who was one of a raft of Rangers playing their first Garden game in a Blueshirt.

The one downside? Panarin's debut was cut short in the second period by a mild groin strain and an abundance of caution, the Rangers feeling no need to press their new star left winger back into action in an exhibition.

"More precautionary than anything," David Quinn said following his Rangers' 4-3 loss to New Jersey. "He should be fine."

In the end, though, Panarin managed to pack more than a few electric moments into his 12:59 of ice, on a night in which he, Kaapo Kakko, Jacob Trouba, Adam Fox, Vitali Kravtsov and Igor Shesterkin all were among the group playing their first Garden game as a Ranger. Three of those - Panarin, Trouba and Kakko - along with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider, made up the No. 1 power-play unit that had practiced together for the first time only the day before, but which on Wednesday showed it had lethal capacity.

Panarin was the one to score the power-play goal, a blistering top-corner one-timer that buzzed Kreider's tower on its way in - "Wow," Kreider said when the puck hit the back of the net. It was the lone power-play goal on a night when the Rangers might have scored half a dozen of them, if not for a couple of goalposts and a few other sparkling stops by New Jersey's Cory Schneider (27 saves in 40 minutes).

"Well, that was fun," Kreider said afterward. "That was pretty cohesive for being, what, two or three days in and only practicing a couple of times? We definitely have stuff we can build off of, but everyone kind of played their role to a T. We were snapping it around pretty good.

"And it wasn't just like we were just working the perimeter. Everything was done with a purpose, all those guys were trying to attack, they were trying to accomplish something, they were taking what was given, nothing was being forced. If we can build on that, that's going to be a pretty good weapon for us going forward.

After watching his power-play units getting to work in Tuesday's practice, Quinn came away happy with how both of them looked - but said that even in an early practice, the top group clearly had some "instant chemistry."

"I thought that first practice we had with them they were outstanding, when they were zipping it around," Quinn said following Wednesday's game. "For a unit that hadn't spent much time together, if any at all, up to three days ago, they certainly found some chemistry. There was a pace to that power play.

"So far, so good."

Panarin, Trouba, Kakko, and Kravtsov each had a point in their first Garden game, while Fox - who grew up a Ranger fan and has played on Garden ice before, with Harvard - played 24:40, second-most of any skater in the game behind Trouba's 26:50. And Shesterkin, in his own Garden debut, split the game with Alexandar Georgiev and made 12 saves; after he made his very first one, a quick kick of the left pad to deny New Jersey's former No. 1 pick Nico Hischier, the Garden crowd broke into chants of "Igor!"

Lias Andersson and Micheal Haley each scored for the Rangers.

Kakko skated 20:50, including 5:48 of power-play time, and had four of the Rangers' 42 shots on goal (to the Devils' 24). The 18-year-old said both before and after the game that he really wasn't suffering from any nerves in spite of all the anticipation for his Broadway arrival, but he did delight in hearing the crowd at the mostly full Garden.

"The atmosphere was so good. Such great fans," Kakko said. "It feels good to play hockey, always, but here it is great."

"Not entirely different than what I saw out of him at Worlds," said Kreider, who represented the United States in the World Championships in May, facing Kakko and Finland. "He makes good reads to get the puck, and to be first on pucks, and then to protect it and make a play. He wants the puck, he wants to be around the puck. He's got the thing on a string, it's so close to his toes it's hard to get it off him. He plays a very heavy game for an 18-year-old. He's fun to play with."

Speaking not only of Kakko but of his fellow rookies making their debuts, Zibanejad said: "They don't look nervous. That's a good thing for being that young. I know taking this step to play a preseason game at the Garden is pretty big. And I know I was nervous when I when I played my first preseason game. But I think they handled it well."

The Rangers resume their preseason schedule with a rematch against the Devils on Friday night in Newark - likely with an entirely different roster from Wednesday's game - followed by a visit to Philadelphia on Saturday.

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