Rangers: 3 things to watch for in the second pre-season game of 2023-24

New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad (93) celebrates with goalie Igor Shesterkin (31) after a 5-2 win against the New Jersey Devils in game six of the first round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden
Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers are just hours away from facing off against the New York Islanders, their long-time divisional rivals in the second exhibition match of the 2023-24 pre-season. Following a disappointing 3-0 shutout against Boston, it’s essential for the Rangers to bounce back and at least get on the score sheet against the Islanders.

Tonight’s game will feature more NHL regulars than prospects as compared to game one, so the Rangers will have the opportunity to show what level of potential a proper roster brings to the ice. Although it is still only pre-season, there are a handful of things the organization will be looking for.

Kaapo Kakko will likely play for the first time this pre-season

Based on the list of players who participated in practice this morning, chances are that Kaapo Kakko will receive playing time in the contest against the Islanders. Game one allowed Alexis Lafreniere to show his development, and it seems as if it is now Kakko’s turn.

The Rangers have two open spots in the top six regarding the right wing position, and there are a handful of players eyeing down those roles. Lafreniere has been attempting to transition to the right side this offseason, and recently signed Blake Wheeler certainly has the skill to claim one of those spots. With Kakko hitting the ice for the first time this year, he will have a large task in front of him to earn a top-six role.

Although the offseason brought many rumors of Kakko already locking up the first-line right wing, Lafreniere has also been receiving an abundance of time in that role. The 2023-24 season is a big year for Kakko as he targets a breakout campaign, and that journey will start tonight.

Shesterkin is aiming for a bounce-back season

The goaltending tandem set to play for the Rangers tonight will likely consist of both superstar Igor Shesterkin prospect Dylan Garand. The latter has the potential to develop into an elite backup a few years down the line, but his chances of making the NHL this year are slim to none. The real pressure lies on the shoulders of Shesterkin, who saw a slight decrease in numbers last season.

Finishing with a record of 37-13-8 is not a bad stat whatsoever. Shesterkin had an incredible 2022-23 season with a 2.48 goals-against average and a save percentage of .916. Although that stat line is considered one of the best in the NHL, it’s still a down year compared to the level of play Shesterkin has shown in the past. Coming off of a record-setting year, it was known that Shesterkin would likely regress last season. However, the slate is clean heading into 2023-24, and the Rangers’ number-one star will be looking for another career year.

Shesterkin will likely split the game with Garand, but it will be interesting to see how he performs in his first game back after a long offseason. The Islanders will not be at their full potential as it is still pre-season, but Shesterkin’s quest for another record-setting year will begin with them.

Can the Rangers stay healthy following a bruising string of injuries?

Perhaps the biggest disappointment thus far has been the consistent reports of injuries given by the Rangers. Mika Zibanejad and Brennan Othmann had both been labeled with day-to-day injuries on Saturday. And although Othmann has fully returned and Zibanejad is back on the ice with a no-contact jersey, the injuries have continued.

Earlier today, it was announced that Filip Chytil had suffered an upper-body injury, and Artemi Panarin a lower-body injury. There should be no major concern regarding either player as both are listed as day-to-day, however there should be some level of questioning as to why the Rangers are dealing with an injury bug this early on in the year. The issue has not been the games thus far but the change of pace during practice set by head coach Peter Laviolette.

“There has been a noticeable uptick in the intensity of these practices under Laviolette. They’ve been fast and physical, with some sessions spanning two hours. Players are being pushed, both from a hockey and conditioning standpoint.”

via Lohud

With opening night just a few weeks away, the Rangers must be at their full potential by October 12th. To begin the 2023-24 campaign with a weakened roster will hurt the Blueshirts immensely in a division as competitive as the Metropolitan. Heading into tonight’s matchup, the Rangers must play safe in order to not lose any other key member of the team.