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Pionk Debuts With OT Winner in Preseason Opener

by Matt Calamia @MattCalamia /

Defenseman Neal Pionk exuded more confidence and poise than a player not yet finished with his first professional hockey game.

The 22-year-old spun around Brock Nelson at the top of the Islanders' zone and beat Eamon McAdam glove side 2:31 into overtime to lift the Rangers to a 1-0 victory in their preseason opener at Madison Square Garden.

"Lias [Andersson] just gave me the puck at the point," Pionk said after. "I had pressure at the top. I knew I had to make a play, so that happened to be the play and I got lucky that it went through his arm."

At a time of the year everyone - especially young players - are trying to catch the eye of the coaching staff, Pionk left a lasting image.

"There's no doubt it was a real good move against an experienced player," head coach Alain Vigneault said. "I thought Neal played a good game tonight. He obviously had that goal, but he was good with his decision making with the puck and he had a real strong game."

Video: NYI@NYR: Pionk's slick spin leads to overtime winner

In fact, Vigneault had praise for all four of his young players, including Andersson, along with forwards Gabriel Fontaine and Vinni Lettieri. 

"I thought he had some real good moments," Vigneault said of Andersson, who had one shot in 16:10 of ice time. "His decision making on the ice when he's looking to make plays with the puck. Chipping when the opportunity is there with some bite."

The game itself was filled with minor penalties - 18 in total, including nine via the slash. Vigneault said he and the organization received word from the NHL alerting them about the increased potential for calls.

"Those are the rules and we know what they are," Vigneault said. "It's like with everything else, you have to adjust. You have to be calm on the slashing and take that part out of the game."

The calls limited five-on-five play and in turn, limited the amount of pucks Ondrej Pavelec faced in his Rangers exhibition debut. The netminder faced just 10 shots in 40 minutes, stopping them all.

But the 30-year-old wasn't complaining about the lack of work.

"Sometimes you feel more shots and you let in four goals," he said. "I was happy to be in the net because I didn't play the game in a long time. It was great just to get the game feeling and the preparation for the game. It was good and I'm really happy."

Pavelec wasn't the only happy Blueshirt in the host's locker room, as Pionk was still processing what he just accomplished in his Broadway debut.

"I'm still trying to pinch myself and make sure it's real," he said with a smile. "Make sure I'm not playing NHL or a video game. That's what it seems like."

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