BRIDGEPORT, Conn. -- In the preseason finale and with roster spots up for grabs, David Quinn came away feeling that his job was more difficult than when the game began. He also felt that it is a good problem to have.
It's all up to the coach and the front office now - six preseason games are in the books and there are no more tune-ups, no more auditions. The Rangers will have to get their roster down to 23 or fewer by Tuesday afternoon, and the next time they play, on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, it'll be for real.
But on Saturday night at the home rink of the Islanders' AHL affiliate, the young Rangers who were trying to leave Quinn and Co. with a lasting impression achieved exactly that. With most of their top players sitting out the preseason finale, and the Islanders fielding almost entirely their Opening Night roster, the Blueshirts took a tie into the final minutes before Mathew Barzal snapped it in a 4-2 Isles win.
"I'm really proud of our guys. I thought we did a lot of good things tonight," Quinn said afterward. "Really unfortunate that we gave up that goal at the end. I thought we defended well all night, didn't give up hardly any odd-man rushes, if any at all. I thought we were on top of the play. I thought our power play got better as the game went on. Just a lot of positives to draw from tonight."
Lias Andersson, who certainly left a positive impression, was one of them. Playing on a line with a pair of veterans in Vlad Namestnikov and Jesper Fast, he set up Namestnikov with a deft pass to break a scoreless tie past the game's midway point, giving Andersson points in three of the five preseason games he played. He may have helped himself even more in his coaches' eyes by his work killing penalties throughout the preseason; he and the Rangers' PK unit had killed 14 penalties in a row before Josh Bailey's late second-period goal ended any thoughts of a shutout for Alexandar Georgiev (22 saves), who played the full 60 minutes for the first time in camp.
"I did everything I could, and I'm happy with the way I played, and the way I battled," Andersson said of his preseason. "I gave it all and I'm happy with it."
Ryan Lindgren picked up the second assist on Namestnikov's goal and once again made his presence felt playing a physical game that was typical of his preseason.
Then there was Tony DeAngelo, whose late arrival in Training Camp seemed to do nothing to hold him back. DeAngelo finished it by playing two games in a three-day span, and on Saturday "he had another really good night," Quinn said, which included a goal and left no doubt that he needed little time getting up to speed in camp. "He's in great shape," Quinn added.
"I feel good, ready to go," DeAngelo said. "It's good to get these two games under my belt, feel the pace of play again, the physicality, all that kind of stuff that comes into regular-season games."
On the shift where DeAngelo scored, the physicality could be felt in the 10th row. A delayed penalty already was on its way to Matt Martin for a flying leap he took at Brendan Lemieux - who was deep under the Islanders' skin by the third period - and with a sixth Ranger skater on, DeAngelo beat Thomas Greiss clean with a wrist shot just at the moment Martin was stepping into him with a shoulder.
DeAngelo called it "a very clean hit, shoulder to shoulder." Speaking of that sequence as a whole, though, Quinn said, "They were doing a little running around that shift. They were looking to do some headhunting, and it was apropos that that ended up in the back of the net."
Lemieux drew another penalty on Martin not even six minutes later - a linesman had to hold Cal Clutterbuck away from Lemieux, whose only reaction was to shrug his shoulders - but the Rangers couldn't cash in the power play, and Barzal scored with 2:20 left.
These teams' lineups - the Rangers' lineup, anyway - will look far different when the rivals meet in the regular season; they don't see one another until Jan. 13 at the Garden, but once they do, they square off three times in nine days.
This Ranger lineup will likely have a trimmed-down look by Monday morning, though - the team will take an off-day Sunday, then have three practice days to prepare for the Winnipeg Jets, and 2019-20 Opening Night at the Garden.
In the meantime, it's all up to the coach and the front office now.
"A lot of guys had good nights, good solid nights," Quinn said, explaining that his job became more difficult on Saturday night. "Look at the lineups: It was tooth-and-nail all night long. Right down to the end. There was an awful lot of good to take out tonight."