LAS VEGAS----Head coach Alain Vigneault said the Rangers had three roster decisions to make following a 4-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings in their preseason finale at the Garden Arena at the MGM Grand Friday: Finding two forwards to complete the roster to start the season and a seventh defenseman.
With 10 forwards locked in: Derek Stepan, Brad Richards, Rick Nash, Derick Brassard, Dom Moore, Benoit Pouliot, Mats Zuccarello, Brian Boyle, Taylor Pyatt, and Derek Dorsett, the top six defensemen, it's down to the final cuts, which will be discussed Saturday and announced Sunday
On Friday, J.T. Miller made one of those decisions easier.
“I thought he played real strong back-to-back games, he skated well when he had the opportunity to carry the puck,” said Vigneault. “He made some plays, when he had the opportunity to play the man, he did.”
And perhaps equally important, Miller, 20, who missed almost all of training camp with a sore hamstring, scored his second goal in his last two games, redircting Anton Stralman's point shot past Jonathan Quick in the first period. "In Edmonton here, I just wanted to give my best showing,” said Miller, who played 26 games last season before being sent to Hartford to rehab a sore wrist. “Get pucks in, try to beat people to pucks, grind it out.”
NHL teams have to be at or under the $64.3 million salary cap by Monday at 3 p.m.
Captain Ryan Callahan is progressing from his offseason shoulder surgery, able to take contact in practice, but based on comments by Vigneault, it appears that Carl Hagelin, who continues to rehab from the same procedure, 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.
Seems as if there are four other possibilities at forward: Darroll Powe, who can play center and wing, who Vigneault said “has come into camp and played well”; Arron Asham, Chris Kreider, who “played alright” Friday, Vigneault said, and used his speed and strength at times, and rookie Marek Hrivik. Said Kreider: “I’m not really too conscious about where I am on the depth chart. I think I’ve gotten better every single game, I felt pretty good tonight.” On defense, it is between Justin Falk and Stu Bickel.
As for the game, the Kings, with their top forwards---Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter and Mike Richards---scoring in the first period, two on the power play, sent the Rangers to their fifth loss in six preseason games.
“We’re playing against a team who had 90-95 percent of their roster out there, won a Stanley Cup a couple years ago, we didn’t have a lot of penalty killers and I think it showed early,” said Vigneault. “It’s four games in five nights.”
After the three-goal first period, Henrik Lundqvist rebounded to stop 21 of 22 shots, including two shots on a breakaway by Tanner Pearson.
“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. I know I need to play to get it going; I’ve always been that way. It’s time to go home, take a deep breath and regroup. It’s an adjustment. We definitely didn’t get the results we wanted, but we played with speed, and there were some good things tonight.”
On D, it's down to Justin Falk, who arrived in a draft day trade, and Stu Bickel, who also has been used as a spare forward and is willing to drop the gloves.