Rangers down Bruins in spirited contest, 3-2

Brett Connolly scored a pair of goals including one just 40 seconds into Wednesday’s contest, but the Boston Bruins dropped their second exhibition game in as many tries after starting the preseason 4-0.

As pointed out to me on Twitter by several B’s fans, the Rangers were icing a lineup much closer to their NHL roster than Boston was, so there is room for praise for the job the Boston squad did in keeping the lead until the last 3 minutes or so of the second period and then coming back to within one goal late in the final frame. In the end, however, it wasn’t enough.

The B’s lost in regulation, but the teams played a 5-minute 3-on-3 overtime session that failed to generate a score, despite the Rangers getting a power play after Alex Khokhlachev was assessed an obstruction foul.

Fans will need to get used to these kinds of games going forward this season- yes, the team was without many of its top players last night, but even with a full roster, the Bruins will be challenged to score goals on the regular basis. They will have to cash in on the opportunities they do create (and those given them by opponents) and outwork other clubs in order to make the playoffs.

Having said that- here are some notes on some of the players:

Brett Connolly- He accounted for all of the offense last night, and it was the best of the three preseason games we’ve seen from him. His second goal was batted baseball style out of midair and into the net, displaying some excellent hand-eye coordination. On the downside, he’s still turning the puck over and making some mistakes to nitpick, but you could see last night why he was a top draft pick five years ago. Connolly is more than capable of scoring 25 goals this year for Boston, but Claude Julien will stress attention to detail with him to mitigate some of the mistakes he makes with and without the puck.

Zach Trotman- Last pick in 2010 played a strong defensive game and assisted on Connolly’s second tally by denying a Rangers clearing attempt at the blue line and throwing the puck to the net. He may not be the most instinctive of defenders, but Trotman’s 6-4 height and 220-pound frame, along with his mobility allow him to make plays at both ends of the ice. Sometimes, you wonder about people’s expectations- it isn’t like Trotman was a first- or second-round selection and recognized talent to play a prominent role. He was a developmental project player from the get-go and has worked hard to put himself into the NHL picture in Boston- some of these same critics fall all over themselves to praise Koko who has yet to turn any of his flashy plays into production, yet Trotman came through with a statement game last night. It’s the internet and all, but my guess is that on opening night- No. 62 will be in the Boston lineup and No. 76 won’t.

Colin Miller- I think we’ve seen enough- the former Kings prospect is an NHL player, and the Bruins will benefit from his skating, puckhandling and big-time point shot. On one particular sequence in the second period, the puck was thrown to the net as he was cutting to the short side. It hit his skate, but even at speed, Miller was able to corral it with his stick and get a shot off. Henrik Lundqvist made a terrific save, but it was the kind of effortless-looking play that is much harder for most to pull off. Miller belongs on this team, end of story.

Joonas Kemppainen- The Finnish free agent has the look of a solid fourth-line center with his faceoff work and disciplined play in all 200 feet of the rink. He’s not a dynamic skater, but as a big guy, he doesn’t have to be. He uses his stick effectively to disrupt plays on the penalty kill and has been in the right position throughout the preseason. He’s not a player who will bring a lot of offensive production to the table, but his heavy game is well suited for the bottom line and with the right wingers, so long as that unit can chip in and play some quality minutes, the B’s are on the right track.

Jimmy Hayes- He was active and involved in the play all night. He’s not as skilled as younger brother Kevin, but he brings more tenacity and “want to” in my opinion. The team had him wearing the ‘A’ last night, and Hayes continued his solid if unspectacular play in the preseason, tallying a helper on Connolly’s first goal. He’s clearly enjoying being a Bruin, and he’s a valued addition on a team that is going to need every ounce of his talent and 6-6 frame to get some gritty, dirty goals on any given night.

Ryan Spooner- Boston’s third-line center showed off his ability to work the wall last night, at one point during a power play in the second period generating quality scoring chances from both sides of the ice. Koko just missed sending him in alone on a breakaway during the 3-on-3 overtime session, and he might have ended it right there. Spooner is at his best when pushing the pace of the offense and backing defenses up with his speed. Unfortunately, he also made a poor decision late in the second period to make a cross-ice pass after gaining the offensive zone that was deflected away and resulted in a rush the other way that saw J.T. Miller put the Rangers up 2-1 with about 37 seconds remaining on the clock. Those are the kinds of plays that will get any player a stern talking to from the coaches- it was risky and ended up being costly. He did have an assist on Boston’s second goal of the night, however.

Alex Khokhlachev- At some point the energy, hustle and skill plays need to amount to points on the board and it’s just not there. It seems to me that there is an element of fans who want him on the team no matter what, and I can understand that- everyone has an opinion, and he’s undoubtedly more talented than a couple of the veterans who are likely to beat him out for a spot coming out of camp. But one wonders if Max Talbot was showing the same kind of energy, would people go out of their way to praise him as seems to be the case for Koko? For a guy who made it clear that he sees himself as an NHL player, he sure hasn’t been able to find away to produce, and that’s going to be the difference when he is optioned to Providence to start the year. The B’s can and will almost certainly bring him back up at some point (unless Don Sweeney trades him elsewhere- but the kind of value Koko will get at this stage is anyone’s guess), but enough of the grasping at straws- potential is just that- potential…until it is realized through tangible results. It would be one thing if he was scoring a point or three each night he went out there, but he’s not doing that. In the end, it doesn’t matter what any of us on the outside think- Boston management and coaches have the power to decide, and in Koko’s case- it’s pretty simple: where’s the beef? There is no denying the skill, but the team rightfully expects more from him.

Adam McQuaid- The most memorable play of the night from him came on Miller’s late second period goal when he backed up too much in the Boston zone, giving the Ranger forward the time and space to rip a wicked shot into the net, taking the lead. You love McQuaid’s character and toughness, but his mobility and decision-making at times will result in plays like this one. During the course of the season he’s going to make some plays and give some up- if not for the AAV on his contract extension, few would have any issue with his presence. It’s the nature of the beast in this modern cap world.

Jonas Gustavsson- Playing in just his second contest since coming to camp on a PTO, it was a good news/bad news kind of game for the veteran. He was victimized on the first goal, which came on a screen and deflected in off of Trotman’s skate. But he was beaten cleanly on a shot by Miller to break a 1-1 tie, and in the third period, was unable to get across the crease when Rick Nash’s attempted pass was blocked by Matt Irwin. Nash, doing what top goal scorers like him do, grabbed the puck as it bounced back to him and popped it into the yawning open side as Gustavsson was caught by the shortside post. Neither Gustavsson nor Smith have been outstanding in exhibition play, but they have been serviceable. Gustavsson held the fort later in the game and in the OT when the Rangers were on a 4-on-3 man advantage, so flip a coin between the two for Boston’s backup spot. It’s close, and with Smith under contract, he just might get the nod.

Zac Rinaldo- Continues to play his high motor game and drive opponents crazy with his hitting and stickwork. He took a goalie interference penalty and then was reminded of that with a hard, borderline vicious hit from Dylan McIlrath that he bounced back from. With his speed, he creates scoring chances, ringing a shot off the post at one point in the final period, but the production has not and never will be there. Rinaldo is there to bring energy, agitate, draw penalties and get opponents off their game without hurting his own team in the process. There is a segment of Boston fandom that will simply not reconcile that role with his past transgressions nor the price Boston paid to acquire him, but that’s fine- as is the case with McQuaid- he’s here like it or not.

Tyler Randell- Drove to the net and worked the corners effectively. When McIrath tried to go after Rinaldo during a scrum in front of the Rangers net, Randell intercepted the New York defender and the two dropped the gloves. Both players got some shots in, and it looked like a draw, but given what Randell gave way to in terms of height and reach, the bout further enhanced his reputation as a nasty forward who can fight it out with the heavyweights.

Tommy Cross- I have to give the former BC captain and 2x NCAA champion credit. He played hard and smart last night. He’s a longshot given the players the B’s have on the roster, but his character has never, ever been a question mark. Last night, he played with effort, pace and got some good shots on net from the point. He’s an NHL-capable defender in a reduced role, but the question for him is opportunity- can he get it in Boston?

Brian Ferlin- Good player, but what on earth was he thinking in OT when he went to the bench for a chance with the Rangers in possession of the puck at center ice? That resulted in a 3-on-1 but somehow, the B’s survived it and transitioned back the other way, with Koko just missing sending Spooner in on a breakaway. But, Brian- yikes!

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