It was just a preseason game, of course. But for Mika Zibanejad, who is about to begin his 12th NHL season, Thursday’s matchup between the Rangers and Devils at Madison Square Garden was one he was really looking forward to.
“I just want to play and try to get a feel for it,’’ Zibanejad said before the Rangers lost to their nemesis, goalie Akira Schmid, and the Devils, 3-2. “The first preseason game is always special, so I’m just excited to be back playing.’’
Zibanejad was even more excited to play after he missed Tuesday’s 4-2 win over the Islanders because he’d taken a hit in an intrasquad scrimmage Sunday and the Rangers opted to keep him out for precautionary reasons.
He said he expected Thursday’s game to be “a bit of a shock to the system,’’ and for most of the game he did look a little out of sorts. He played 19:02, had three shots on goal, and was a minus-2. He took the first penalty of the game for interfering with Jesper Bratt at 3:18 of the first period.
Rangers coach Peter Laviolette had said at the morning skate that he wanted to get a look at the line of Zibanejad, Chris Kreider and Alexis Lafreniere (playing right wing), but with Zibanejad out of sync, the trio was scoreless and was a combined minus-5.
“I thought their best period was in the second period,’’ Laviolette said of what could be the top line when the regular season opens Oct. 12. “[They were] a little bit inconsistent in the first and the third, but again, it’s [Zibanejad’s] first game back, and not getting the reps in practice that you probably want. So that’s a step, and we’ll look to get them back out there again and see what they’re able to do.’’
Schmid, who shut the Rangers out in Game 7 of the teams’ first-round playoff series in April, frustrated the Blueshirts again, stopping all 19 shots he saw in the 29 minutes and 20 seconds he played. The Rangers were outshot 8-0 at the start of the game.
Tyler Toffoli, acquired by the Devils in a trade with Calgary over the summer, opened the scoring against Igor Shesterkin (20 saves on 21 shots over two periods), but defenseman Erik Gustafsson tied it for the Rangers with his goal against Erik Kallgren, 27 seconds after Kallgren replaced Schmid.
Bratt scored against Louis Domingue 25 seconds into the third period to give the Devils a 2-1 lead.
Michael McLeod scored an empty-netter to make it 3-1, and then top prospect Brennan Othmann scored for the Rangers with 34.5 seconds left.
C Filip Chytil, who left Tuesday’s non-game group practice early with what the team called an “upper-body injury,’’ did not practice. “He’s day-to-day, [but will be out] probably for a few days,’’ Laviolette said. “Nothing that’s a real big concern. I think just erring on the side of caution, making sure that he feels good. And we’ll just move through camp, and when he does feel good, he’ll be back.’’ . . . LW Artemi Panarin, who missed Tuesday’s game with a lower-body injury, returned to practice . . . C Jonny Brodzinski was in the lineup again. Brodzinski is the only Ranger to appear in each of their first three preseason games.