The Lethal Lines Head Into Action

The preseason of hockey is mainly a showcase of prospects, mixed in with a few veterans, trying out for the team. The focus is not about which team is the better team, because wins and losses do not count towards points.

What matters the most is seeing which players will get the bump to the NHL.

In Thursday night’s preseason NHL action, the Rangers defeated the Devils in overtime 4-3 at Madison Square Garden.

The Devils

The preseason games are a good time to see the coaches test new lines and new plays out on the ice. For fans, they can get a glimpse into the possible combinations for the top line and see if the new theories will work.

Take for instance the Devils new Zach Parise-Travis Zajac-Ilya Kovalchuk line. This line is a bit of a surprise for everyone, because both Parise and Kovalchuk are left wingers. Kovalchuk moved to the right wing and next thing you know, that line is responsible for all three of the Devils goals on Thursday night.

Each player came out with a goal and at least one assist (Parise had two assists). Even though the line needs to adjust to each other better (Kovalchuk sometimes finds himself on the left, rather than the right at times), so far they’ve been able to produce in dangerous ways.

As for the defense, only two of the Devils veteran defensemen have secured their jobs on the blueline: Andy Greene and Colin White. The Devils added Anton Volchenkov to bulk up the blueline, but there are still openings on the roster. With the departure of Paul Martin, and Mike Mottau still not on the roster (as of yet), the Devils are looking closely at their defensive options.

Thursday night, the Devils placed Matthew Corrente, Rob Davison, Matt Taormina and Eric Gelinas in the lineup. Who better to get a view of the situation than White?

“The ice was real choppy out there,” he said. “I think they just laid [the ice] today. We took a couple of dives there, and fell down a couple of times. A couple of us were trying to pivot backwards…it’s just pretty bad, but [Taormina] did a great job. He handles the puck really well, skates well.

“Whenever you’re playing with someone new, it takes a little adjustment, compared to anybody in general. It takes some time to develop some chemistry.”

There was one moment in the second period where a back pass by White to Taormina caused a turnover because the young defenseman was not prepared for the pass. That turnover led to a Rangers goal from Alexander Frolov.

“We’ve been together all camp,” White said of Taormina. “We’re getting to know each other. I probably should have went up ice on him. I put him in a bad position. It’s exhibition. You get that out of the way here. You just build on this game.”

Even with that costly mistake, watching the two players on the blueline together you see something that you don’t normally see back on the blueline…two players moving together in the exact same way. They have a sense of symmetry together that has not been seen before on the blueline.

In the years that I have watched and covered hockey, I have never seen anything like this before. They make the exact same movements at the exact same time, until one has to respond differently to the traffic coming in. Even the switch to respond to the incoming traffic, the bond is still not broken. It’s almost like there is an invisible rope tied between the two and they are moving and responding to each other in complete symmetry. If anything, it would appear that the two are meshing in ways that have not been seen before.

That, in itself, is the young defenseman you keep.  His ability to mesh with the older, more experienced veteran will prove to be vital to the team.

“A lot of the young guys have stepped up and played really well,” White said. “On d[efense], there’s a lot of talent…a lot of talented people here. The young kids are really stepping up. Matt [Corrente]’s got a year pro under his belt. It really shows this year coming into camp.

“Urbom…he’s going to be a really nice d[efenseman] to watch. He’s big. He’s strong. He moves really well for a big man. He’s really poised for his age.”

Another player hoping for an opportunity with the Devils is Adam Mair. He was invited to attend Devils training camp this year.

The center, who recently played for the Buffalo Sabres, is a fast skater. He gets to the puck faster than the kid ten years younger than him can. That’s the guy you want on your team. He battles for the puck the exact same way Parise does…and Parise usually wins…so does Mair.

Mair also made a surprise move early in the first period. Brian Boyle (NYR) tried to initiate a fight with Rod Pelley at the Devils bench. Boyle said to Pelley, “You wanna fight?”

Before Pelley could even respond, Mair took the invitation. He stuck up for Pelley, but ended up with seventeen penalty minutes from the fight, one of which was a ten minute game misconduct.

“It’s beyond my control,” Mair said about his thoughts on his chances with signing with the Devils. “You don’t want to waste any energy thinking about it. You play hard and hope that you will get recognized.”

New York Rangers

Marian Gaborik was on fire Thursday night. He scored two of the four goals (including the game winner) in Thursday night’s pregame contest. But the prospect that everyone was talking about was Derek Stepan, who assisted on Gaborik’s first goal.

“He played very good,” Gaborik said of Stepan. “He was not afraid to make a play, get a hit, or give a hit. I think he was good defensively. For the first game, he played very good.”

Stepan signed with the Rangers on July 1, 2010. He decided to forego his junior and senior years at the University of Wisconsin.

Ironically enough, Stepan is also a graduate of Shattuck-Saint Mary’s. Parise, Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews are alumni of the esteemed school’s hockey team. The school is well known for producing many of the elite players in the NHL that have gone on to win gold and silver medals in the Olympics, and produce captains that have hoisted the Stanley Cup in the last two years (Crosby in 2009, Toews in 2010).

But, the Rangers can expect great things coming from Stepan. Is he worth a roster shot? You bet.

Boyle was also a fan favorite for the night. He is still vying for another chance this season. Not only did he rough up Mair, but he also tallied a goal in the Rangers preseason victory over the Devils. If he can pack a punch and still play hockey, that’s a New York Ranger.

The newest addition to the Rangers squad, Frolov, is also proving he is worth every penny. He walked away with three points (goal and two assists) in the contest. He’s quick and can even trick out the goaltender to score in the most amazing ways.

Gaborik, Frolov and Stepan together on the same line could be a very dangerous and lethal line this season for the Rangers.

* * *

The Rangers and Devils meet again at Prudential Center on Saturday at 7 p.m.


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