NEWARK, N.J. — J.T. Miller knows how he must play to be successful: Use his body, early and often.
“I think when I’m at my best, I’m playing physical,” Miller said before the Rangers’ 5-4 loss at Prudential Center on Saturday. “When I get away from that, I’m not really engaged in the game and that’s when I have my off games; it affects the rest of my play. ’’
In his first preseason appearance after playing for Team North America in the World Cup, Miller, with just two hits, both in the first period, and one shot, wasn’t as effective as he had hoped, and neither were most of his teammates.
Miller said afterward: “No excuses. You have to be ready. I had the puck a little more today than I did in the World Cup, so I was a little rusty, but that’ll come.”
Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi struggled, tripping at the corner of the net while chasing Taylor Hall, who fed Beau Bennett for the first of his two goals for the Devils. Girardi and defenseman Mat Bodie were on the ice for both.
The highlight for fellow defenseman Brady Skjei was his low shot tipped by Jesper Fast for the opening goal. He struggled handling the puck all evening and committed an interference penalty. Jimmy Vesey had a turnover on Pavel Zacha’s goal. Magnus Hellberg allowed three goals in the second half of the second period when he came in to relieve Antti Raanta. A hooking penalty to Maxim Lapierre — his first of two — and an interference call on Phillip McRae led to Devils power play goals in the first and second.
In the team’s third preseason game, Miller was the right wing on a line with center Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider.
“They look like they’re in sync,” Miller said. “I’ve played with Chris quite a bit so I know what to expect, and played against Mika in a lot of the years in games between the U.S. and Canada. I know what he brings to the games, so it’s just a matter of finding each other.”
Miller, 23, who had a career-high 22 goals and 43 points last season, played on a line with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider, said prior to the game: “I don’t want to be satisfied by one pretty good year. I want to be consistent every year.”
Last season, said coach Alain Vigneault, Miller made better decisions with the puck, which had been a gap in his game. “We saw a young man that had taken significant strides,” Vigneault said. “He’s got offensive capabilities, he’s got bite to his game. Now we’d like him to become a good overall player, one you can trust at both ends of the rink. We’re expecting a lot from him.”
Henrik returns. Back from the World Cup, Henrik Lundqvist practiced for the first time at the team’s training center and will practice again Sunday. Lundvist will play three periods over the next three games . . . Jesper Fast, Zibanejad, Michael Grabner and John Gilmour scored the Rangers’ goals . . . Center Josh Jooris, a candidate for the fourth line who suffered a groin injury early in the first preseason game, is expected to practice Sunday.