During a stretch of four road games in five nights, from Western Canada to Las Vegas, the Rangers scuffled and stumbled and then packed their bags for a red-eye flight back home.
Trying to adapt to a new system while new coach Alain Vigneault and his staff evaluated prospects proved to be a formidable task: The Rangers lost to the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks and former coach John Tortorella, and the Los Angeles Kings by a combined score of 18-5.
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"It was a challenge. We were playing tired," said Brian Boyle, who needed stitches in his ear after being struck by a clearing pass Friday in the 4-1 loss to the Kings at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. "We played well in parts of some games, but there's a lot we need to be working on."
Indeed, the most significant victory came off the ice: Center Derek Stepan, the team's leading scorer last season, who had missed training camp and all six preseason games while mired in a contract dispute, agreed to a salary-cap friendly, two-year deal on Thursday.
On the ice, perhaps the most encouraging sign as the Rangers prepare to open the season in Phoenix on Oct. 3 was the closing performance of Henrik Lundqvist against the Kings. After he allowed three goals in the first period, Lundqvist rebounded to stop 21 of 22 shots, including some open, point-blank blasts and a breakaway.
"My game is coming," he said. "It hasn't been great, but I had a good feeling in the second half of the game. It just felt the game was a lot more structured, the way we played and the way they played. It looked more like a regular season game. It's time to go home, take a deep breath and regroup. It's been an adjustment. We definitely didn't get the results we wanted, but we played with speed, and there were some good things that happened."
With 16 roster spots locked in -- 10 forwards and six defensemen -- the last step is deciding on two or three forwards and a seventh defenseman, Vigneault said. Final cuts will be announced Sunday, when Stepan will practice with the team. Opening Day rosters in compliance with the $64.3 million salary cap must be filed with the NHL by Monday at 3 p.m.
J.T. Miller, 20, one of Tortorella's favorite prospects last season, appeared to solidify a spot, scoring twice in three games. "I just tried to give my best showing," said Miller, who played 26 games last season. "Get pucks in, try to beat people to pucks, grind it out."
Captain Ryan Callahan, who is rehabbing from offseason shoulder surgery, has been taking contact for two days in practice and is expected to return sooner than Carl Hagelin, who underwent the same procedure. Based on comments by Vigneault, it appears that Hagelin could be placed on long-term injured reserve, which means he would have to miss at least 10 games. The Rangers could use his salary cap charge of $2.25 million to cover his fill-ins. If that happens, the Rangers could carry 13 forwards, plus Callahan.
Those hoping to make the cut include veteran Darroll Powe, who can play center and wing, "and has come into camp and played well," Vigneault said. Others include Arron Asham and Chris Kreider, who "played all right" Friday and used his speed and strength at times, according to Vigneault. Rookie Marek Hrivik is another candidate.
"I'm not really too conscious about where I am on the depth chart," Kreider said. "I think I've gotten better every game."
On defense, the choice is between Justin Falk and Stu Bickel to begin the season, which for many Rangers, can't start soon enough.