Tell the truth. When the Islanders rallied from a two-goal deficit with two quickies to start the third period, did you think the Rangers would win? Last season’s script would’ve resulted in an ugly loss. Not this time. Chris Kreider’s breakaway goal and big assist on a Brandon Pirri power play goal made certain the Rangers prevailed in a 5-3 win over the Islanders for a successful season opener at MSG.
It was the first time since 2007 the Rangers began a season on home ice. Like that one, they were winners. Unlike last year when they couldn’t beat their crosstown rival, they took the first game of the regular season series. The next one isn’t until Dec. 6 in Brooklyn.
Michael Grabner became the answer to a trivia question. The former Islander scored the first goal of the season at 13:41 of the first period when he got to a Pirri rebound and beat Isles’ starter Jaroslav Halak. Jesper Fast drew the secondary assist. Pirri also rang a backhand off the crossbar just as the first period ended. He had a strong debut scoring a big insurance goal on the power play and recording an assist.
The Rangers got good goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist. The 34-year old Swede snapped an eight-game losing streak against Halak. He was particularly sharp stopping all 18 Isles’ shots the first two periods. That included some close calls from in tight. In recording his 375th career victory, he finished with 25 saves.
Mats Zuccarello scored the only goal of the second period. Mika Zibanejad had a good Broadway debut registering two assists. He started the play by using his speed to create a scoring chance on the rush. The former Senator kept puck possession and found trailer Brady Skjei, who passed for the cutting Zuccarello whose backhand went off an Islander in front deflecting past Halak for a 2-0 lead with 2:19 left.
What makes this rivalry great is the games are usually close. No leads are safe. So, it wasn’t a surprise when the Islanders came back with two goals in the first 4:04 of the third. Nick Leddy got the first one when he successfully jumped into a rush and took a Casey Cizikas feed and beat Lundqvist stick side 47 seconds into the third.
Still in attack mode, the new line of Kreider, Zibanejad and 21-year old Russian rookie Pavel Buchnevich tried to get it back. But Buchnevich made a mistake when his cross ice pass didn’t work resulting in trapping all three forwards for an Isles’ counterattack. They came four-on-two with Cizikas and Nikolay Kulemin combining to set up a nice tip in from Ranger killer Cal Clutterbuck that tied the score.
It was Kreider who responded big time. Thanks to a great pass from Buchnevich that hit Kreider at the Isles’ blue line, he broke away from Travis Hamonic and scored on a breakaway. Using his speed, Kreider cruised in and patiently faked before tucking home a backhand past Halak at 9:45 to give the Rangers the lead for good. New Ranger Nick Holden got his first point with a secondary helper.
The Isles tried to come back. But Lundqvist held firm. It wasn’t his best period allowing three goals on 10 shots. However, it was good enough to win. He’ll take it. So will the Rangers who defeated the Islanders for the first time since Mar. 10, 2015.
It wasn’t a good night for John Tavares. Held off the score sheet, the Isles’ captain took two bad penalties late in regulation that cost his team any chance. The first was a holding minor with over four minutes left which led to a Pirri power play goal that made it 4-2 with 3:49 remaining. On it, Halak was unable to control a dangerous Zibanejad one-timer. Kreider found the rebound and made a great no look pass to a wide open Pirri for an easy one-timer put away. Great wizardry from Kreider, who dominated offensively with a goal, helper and a game high seven shots (9 total attempts).
J.T. Miller scored an empty netter from Kevin Hayes that made it 5-2. He played with Hayes and Rick Nash on the third line. Both Miller and Hayes saw penalty kill time with Miller making a shorthanded bid but was stoned by a sliding Halak.
Brock Nelson got one back with 1:35 left. Josh Bailey was able to find Nelson cutting towards the net where he beat Lundqvist with a wrist shot for his first. 2015 first round pick Anthony Beauvillier recorded his first NHL point with an assist on the play. Nelson beat Derek Stepan for the goal.
A second Tavares’ minor for tripping at 18:46 finished off the game. He was undisciplined. The Rangers completed the game on the power play. Buchnevich forced Halak to make a tough save. Halak was busy turning aside 34 of 38 shots to take the loss.
Battle of NY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Casey Cizikas, NYI (2 assists, 4 shot attempts, +2 in 26 shifts (15:21)
2nd Star-Brandon Pirri, NYR (goal, assist, 2 shots, +1 in 16 shifts including 3:58 PP of 10:57)
1st Star-Chris Kreider, NYR (breakaway goal, assist, 7 shots, 9 attempts, -1 in 26 shifts-16:11 including 4:31 PP)
Notes: Isles’ top shutdown pair Leddy and Hamonic had a rough night each finishing minus-three. … Cizikas recorded a career high two assists while centering Clutterbuck and Kulemin on the fourth line. … With no right wing yet after releasing P.A. Parenteau, who scored in the Devils’ 2-1 overtime loss at Florida, coach Jack Capuano started former Cap Jason Chimera on the top line with Tavares and Andrew Ladd. The line combined to go minus-six with nine shots.
… Alain Vigneault opted to start rookie Jimmy Vesey with Stepan and Zuccarello. In 13:02, he didn’t register a shot but saw 2:38 of power play time. … With an assist, Buchnevich recorded his first point in his NHL debut. Even though he made a mistake that led to an Islander goal, he was impressive offensively with three shots including six attempts. He took 23 shifts (13:53) including 4:50 on the power play. … Ryan McDonagh led all Ranger skaters in ice-time with 23:11. He was a key part of Pirri’s power play goal manning the point. He and partner Girardi were on for Clutterbuck’s tying marker. Girardi received 17:09 in 30 shifts with 14:38 at even strength and 2:33 shorthanded. In his debut, Adam Clendening paired with Skjei recording two shots in six attempts with 14:22 at even strength and 2:58 on the PP. Skjei got the least amount of time on the back end with 14:14 (13:52 EV). He had an assist and took a delay of game minor.
… Face offs were 33-31 in favor of the Rangers. Zibanejad was impressive winning 15-of-25 while Stepan went 11-and-10. For the Isles, Tavares was 11-for-19 while Cizikas also finished 11-and-10. … The Rangers out-shot the Islanders 39-28 and out-attempted them 73-58. Isles led in hits 31-24 paced by Clutterbuck and Anders Lee– each with 5. Kreider and Holden each had four to lead the Blueshirts. Blocked shots were 19-16 Isles with Johnny Boychuk blocking a game high four. Girardi and Staal led the Rangers with three apiece.
… Rangers (1-0-0) pay a visit to St. Louis Saturday. The Blues have won their first two and look like one of the teams to beat in the West. … The Islanders (0-1-0) visit the Capitals tomorrow. Washington lost to the Pens on their Cup banner night 3-2 in a shootout. Even without Sidney Crosby (concussion), they still found a way to beat the Caps.