BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Head coach Gerard Gallant said the most important thing for his Rangers in their final preseason game, Saturday night against the Islanders, was to come through healthy.
That goal was spoiled at the tail end of the second period, when Ryan Strome collided with Islanders defenseman Scott Mayfield during a Rangers power play. The Rangers’ 1B center immediately took off his glove, grimacing in pain, and began favoring his right wrist.
Strome missed the remainder of the game, which the Blueshirts won 5-4 in overtime on Filip Chytil’s third goal of the night, win with what the team described as an upper-body injury.
Gallant didn’t seem too concerned about Strome’s injury after the game. The coach said that he “doesn’t think” it’ll keep the center out of opening night, Wednesday at Washington.
“He’s going to be fine,” Gallant said after the Rangers finished the preseason with a 4-2 record. “Just the upper body, but nothing too serious we don’t think.”
While facing a version of the Islanders that the Rangers can expect to see during the regular season, Strome stepped up and was effective through two periods. Plus, the Rangers were cautious and opted to sit their top guns in Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider.
Strome recorded a goal and an assist before his injury, helping the Rangers build a 2-1 lead entering the third period. After sending a stellar cross-ice pass to Vitali Kravtsov for a power-play goal to knot the score 1-1 in the first period, Strome buried a rebound off a K’Andre Miller shot just 39 seconds into the middle frame.
But it was Chytil’s hat trick, which included the winner 2:06 into overtime on a power play, that anchored the Rangers win.
“For me, it matters,” Chytil said of recording a hat trick in preseason. “Of course, it’s still goals, we won the game, it’s still preseason. Everyone can say it’s preseason, but for our confidence, it’s huge. We’re happy that we finished the preseason like this.”
The 22-year-old Czech added that the preseason has been an important time for the Rangers to get reps together and get used to Gallant’s new system. At the beginning of training camp, Strome had pointed out that Gallant’s system is “a lot simpler.”
“I agree with Stromer,” Chytil said. “We had [one system for] three years in a row, we had the same system and now, in three games, we have to change it. We have to change our mindset. Sometimes you just drive by our instincts and sometimes you forget what you should do now.
“It was a good preseason for us and [we] just get ready for Wednesday.”
Under Gallant, there is more freedom to just play, which deters players from thinking too much. Gallant emphasizes having his players execute, support the puck and police themselves. The 58-year-old is also much less hands-on and has more of an old-school approach than his predecessor, David Quinn.
Gallant said he feels the Rangers’ learning curve with his system has gone well, noting that it’ll take time for the team to really get in sync.
“Guys are just used to doing what they do and they’re a creature of habit when they do that all the time,” the coach said. “I don’t think it’s a big, big deal. It’s not a big, big difference, but it takes time and they’ve been good the last couple of games.”
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