Preseason is for everything but agonizing over the wins and losses, but the Rangers are a team that want and need to feel good about itself going into the games that really count beginning on Oct. 12.
So when over half of the Blueshirts who suited up Tuesday night against the Islanders were projected regular players, the result had to at least be slightly better than the club’s shutout loss against the Bruins in the preseason opener.
A more formidable Rangers lineup cruised to a 4-2 victory over an Islanders team that was relatively split between NHLers and prospects at Madison Square Garden.
“I think it’s just a building process,” head coach Peter Laviolette said after the win. “Right now, we’re learning. There were still things out there through the neutral zone that we’ll go back [Wednesday] and we’ll tighten up and continue to teach and continue to work on in practice. I thought there was a lot of good things.
“With that, you can gain some confidence. I do think that’s important, especially with guys coming together for the first part of the year.”
The Rangers lost four of their six preseason games last year and got off to a slower-than-desired start to the regular season.
It appeared to be difficult for the team to get up for games early on after their emotional run to the conference final in 2021-22.
That led to a disappointing 11-10-5 record through the first game in December and prompted captain Jacob Trouba to take action with his now-famous helmet toss that turned the Rangers’ whole season around.
The Rangers will want to go into this new season on a high note, with energy and a general feel-good vibe in the locker room.
After starting the preseason off with a 3-0 loss to the reigning Presidents’ Trophy winners, the Bruins, the Rangers rebounded with a convincing win over a rival.
“It’s a big thing,” Kaapo Kakko said of the importance of the team’s confidence. “Preseason games are always preseason games. Sometimes [they’re] hard. Didn’t feel too good today, but still we got a win. That’s the first thing you want to do.”
There were 11 projected regular players in the lineup Tuesday night, including star goalie Igor Shesterkin. But if you’re counting players who are very likely to make the opening-night roster, like Tyler Pitlick and Erik Gustafsson, it was more like 13.
The score sheet was covered with the usual Rangers suspects, as well as some new faces.
Chris Kreider, Blake Wheeler, Kakko and Pitlick all scored once each, while Barclay Goodrow, Jake Leschyshyn and Gustafsson recorded one assist each.
Laviolette rolled some line combinations that could be seen in some variation during the regular season, as well as another that was designed to give a young player an opportunity to showcase himself.
Brennan Othmann skated on the left wing of the top line alongside Vincent Trocheck and Kakko, and the 20-year-old made himself noticeable.
He laid a thunderous hit on Islanders defenseman Sebastian Aho and ignited a scrum in front of the visitor’s net in the first period.
Jonny Brodzinski centered Kreider and Wheeler in his second game of the preseason, presumably in place of Mika Zibanejad, whom the Rangers are being cautious with after he sustained a minor upper-body injury on Sunday.
Nick Bonino, Goodrow and Pitlick also comprised another unit that could be a bottom-six line for the Rangers come the start of the season.
“I think it’s probably trying to find chemistry with that type of a line and the fact that they do multiple things out there,” Laviolette said of what he’s looking for when designing a fourth line. “You’ve got a couple of faceoff guys, you’ve got guys that defend well, that are penalty killers that can get you out of tough situations in your own zone.
“I think players like that and lines like that when they’re together, they really take pride like that’s their job. I thought for the first showing of them being together, I thought it was a really good line for us.”