Let’s just say the hype the last time a defenseman joined the Rangers lineup straight out of UMass for a late-season game didn’t quite match the buildup preceding Zac Jones’ NHL debut that occurred Thursday night at the Garden in his team’s 3-2 defeat to the Flyers.
Fact is, there was no hype when Thomas Pock was inserted into the Blueshirts’ lineup on March 23, 2004, in a Garden match against the Penguins. Pock, undrafted, signed as a free agent on…well, March 23, 2004.
The native of Austria not only played hours later, but scored a 55-footer late in the third period of the team’s 5-2 defeat in which he played 14:25 while paired primarily with Dale Purinton.
“Wow, huh?” Pock, a Hobey Baker nominee who would play a total of 59 games with the Blueshirts before playing 59 with the Islanders in 2008-09, said following the match. “When you’re a little kid, you dream about going to the NHL and scoring your first goal, and for it all to happen on the same day I signed, it’s very nice.”
Notice of Jones’ arrival preceded the 20-year-old’s insertion into the lineup, his progress a daily topic of conversation since the 2019 third-rounder signed his entry-level deal on April 13, three days after the sophomore helped UMass win the national championship.
The youngster, who got his shot when Jacob Trouba went down with a suspected concussion Tuesday night on Long Island, played a total of 9:45 in his NHL debut and looked cool throughout the match, though victimized as the lone man back on Philly’s two-on-two off which Jakub Voracek scored the 3-1 goal at 14:07.
Jones was poised with the puck on his stick and was able to use his skating ability to negate mistakes by busting back. Jones played 5:16 with Ryan Lindgren on his left and 2:31 with Brendan Smith as his partner. He also got 1:22 on the second unit of the power play.
“I thought he got better and better as the game went on,” said head coach David Quinn. “It was not an easy situation to be put in. I thought he handled the situation well.”
Quinn also reinstated Libor Hajek to the lineup after a pair of healthy scratches, the Czech switching places with Anthony Bitetto. Hajek played 12:19, 4:51 at five-on-five with Adam Fox and 2:33 with Brendan Smith. Hajek, who’d played a total of 13:01 killing penalties going into the game, was on for 1:57 with the penalty-kill unit because of penalties.
Fox was caught on for an extended shift of 2:00 that included penalty-kill work in the second, shortly before K’Andre Miller was on for 2:12 on a shift that also featured shorthanded work.
Rangers were 0-for-3 over 5:25 on the power play while getting five shots on netminder Brian Elliott.
Igor Shesterkin was not culpable, the goaltender indeed keeping the Blueshirts in the game with several jaw-dropping saves in the No. 1’s 11th start in the last 13 games.
Rangers are home to the Flyers on Friday before a pair at the Garden against the Sabres starting Sunday.
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