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New Faces Shine in Win Over Islanders

Zibanejad Leads With Three Points, Pirri Adds Two

by Matt Calamia @MattCalamia /

The new faces in the Rangers lineup wasted little time making a strong first impression on the coaching staff.

Forward Mika Zibanejad had a goal and two assists while Brandon Pirri had a goal and an assist to lead the Rangers to a 5-2 victory over the Islanders in the team's preseason opener Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.

Defenseman Adam Clendening had a pair of assists and Chris Kreider had a goal and an assist as well. Goaltenders Magnus Hellberg and Mackenzie Skapski combined for 29 saves in the win.

"A positive to see Mika's line had some chemistry tonight," head coach Alain Vigneault said after the win. "Also had some chemistry on the power play."

The team's top power play unit of Zibanejad, Kreider, Pirri, Clendening and Pavel Buchnevich was on the ice for both of the team's power play goals on the evening, including Zibanejad's blast from the right circle that tied the game, 1-1, at 4:55 of the first period.

"Who doesn't want to score?" Zibanejad said after his MSG debut as a Ranger. "I think everyone you ask wants to get a good start, especially with a new team. It's still the first game, so you don't want to think that highly about it, but it's obviously nice to get a good start."

The Rangers took a one-goal lead late in the first period on Kreider's first of the preseason. After just missing a glorious opportunity on a wraparound, Kreider fired a low wrist shot from just inside the Islanders blueline through traffic that beat goaltender Jean-Francois Berube to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead.

The good times continued for the new Blueshirts late in the second period when Pirri finished a gorgeous odd-man rush to make it 3-1. Kreider fed Zibanejad in the slot, who then sent a behind-the-back pass to Pirri, who blasted the one-timer top-shelf past Berube. 

"His goal, that was a major league shot," Vigneault said after the game.

While he was quick to stress it was still early in the preseason, Pirri said it was a positive to develop chemistry with his new teammates so quickly.

"It was a lot of fun," said Pirri, who's goal turned out to be the game-winner. "We won, so that makes everything better. It's early, but started building some chemistry with some guys. You just try to make an impression early and often."

The Rangers added two more goals in the third period, one on a blast from the point by defenseman Dylan McIlrath that put the Rangers back up by two goals after the Islanders cut the Blueshirts' lead to one. Dan Girardi iced the game with a short-handed, empty net goal with 2:13 left to play.

Vigneault praised the work of netminders Hellberg and Skapski after their combined win. Hellberg allowed an early goal to Jason Chimera just 1:33 into the contest, but nothing after and finished with 12 saves in 19:30 before giving way to Skapski midway through the second period. Skapski made 17 saves, including a pretty left pad save moments into his relief appearance and another glove save midway through the third period.

While he was kept of the scoresheet, Buchnevich held his own in his MSG debut, finishing the evening with three shots on goal and a plus-2 rating in 15:20 of ice time.

"I was worried at the beginning. I told my teammates don't give me too many pucks because I was worried at the beginning. First shift, no puck," he said with a laugh through a translator.

The Rangers lost center Josh Jooris after the first period to a groin injury. Vigneault said after the game that the team would be recalling a forward that was cut earlier in the day when the training camp roster was reduced by 13.

The Rangers continue the exhibition schedule Thursday when they host the New Jersey Devils at 7 pm.

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