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Recap: Panarin's Pair & Kravtsov's First Lift Blueshirts Past Isles

Top Line Unites in Preseason Win

by Michael Obernauer

Brady Skjei not only had the best view in the Garden of a brilliant offensive display, it turned out he got an assist for it, too.

Skjei earned it by winning a puck behind the Rangers' goal line and moving it ahead to the forwards, after which all he had to do -- all he really could do -- was watch them go to work. The result, down at the other end, was a marvelous rink-wide exchange from Artemi Panarin to Pavel Buchnevich and then back again, resulting in Panarin's one-timer into an open net -- the first of his two goals in the Rangers' 3-1 preseason win over the Islanders on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.

This was the Rangers' fourth of six preseason games, but only the second for Panarin, Buchnevich and Mika Zibanejad -- and the first time that trio, the Rangers' presumptive top line come Opening Night next week, had played together. Each player made the scoresheet, with Panarin scoring midway through the second and then in the final seconds of the third. So far, so good.

"They had a good night for sure," David Quinn said. "I mean, obviously, the goal was a highlight-reel goal, and they were buzzing pretty good." He added: "In some areas, they can get a little bit better."

Skjei laughed when he was asked about his assist on the play, in which Panarin flung a backhand saucer from left wall to right circle, where Buchnevich threw on the brakes, waited for Zibanejad to clear the middle, then returned it to Panarin.

"Yeah, I was just talking to these guys, the defensemen, in the game and saying, 'I might get a few more of those this year with these guys we got up front,'" Skjei said. "To see that skill on display is pretty impressive."

Skjei, though, played a strong game all around and finished the night with not one but two assists, and a plus-3. His first assist was a skillful and patient setup for 19-year-old rookie Vitali Kravtsov to bang in his first of the preseason, and his first goal wearing a Blueshirt. Skjei outwaited a sliding Scott Mayfield on the play, then slid a backhand pass across the crease, where both Kravtsov and his fellow rookie Kaapo Kakko were waiting to finish it off.

Kravtsov's goal and Panarin's first tally came during a second period that Skjei called the Rangers' "best period of camp."

"I feel better now after I scored a goal, but I think about the game," Kravtsov said. "We won today, it's good for the team."

Henrik Lundqvist and Alexandar Georgiev each had a hand in that: The two backstops split the game 50-50 and came within 7:53 of a combined shutout, Jordan Eberle's top-shelf finish of a Mathew Barzal feed the only blemish. Georgiev finished with 16 saves, while Lundqvist stopped the first 13 shots of the game.

"Every game you're going to feel better," Lundqvist said. "My last game (Friday in Newark) I felt better as a game moved on. Today I felt better when the game started. Just keep working on the little things."

One big thing the Rangers felt they needed to work on was their puck management, and Quinn had pointed out on Monday that the number of odd-man rushes against his team was a concern. The Head Coach was asked afterward what kind of strides he saw in that area.

"A lot," he said. "I didn't think we gave up nearly as many of the initial rush chances that we had the first three games, I thought our puck management was much better. And I thought our penalty kill was really good" -- a perfect 4-for-4 on the night. "We made some strides in areas we're going to have to be good at."

"We definitely took some strides forward today," Skjei said. "Our second period was the best period of camp I think. We were all over them. We really preached before the period about line changes, and making sure we get pucks behind them before we change. And we really sustained a great forecheck that period and put them on their heels."

The Rangers are down to two games remaining on their preseason schedule, and eight days before Opening Night. Next up is a Garden date with the Flyers on Thursday; the preseason closes against these Islanders on Saturday in Bridgeport, Conn.

That will also be the Isles' final preseason game; Tuesday's was already their sixth. "You know, for a lot of our guys it was only their second game," Quinn pointed out. "So for us, we're still finding our way and getting closer to having a full lineup and working towards the start of the regular season. This was a good step in the right direction today."
 

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