If this were a prize fighting match, they would’ve stopped it early. It wasn’t even close. The Rangers stumbled and fumbled literally against a superior Islanders, who skated away with a routine 4-0 shutout victory at an empty MSG.
It was the Islanders by TKO. On a special night for top pick Alexis Lafreniere and 20-year old defenseman K’Andre Miller, they couldn’t do enough to overcome a very sharp Islanders. They were the harder working team who were better in the corners, in front and defensively. It all added up to a 24 save shutout for starting goalie Semyon Varlamov, who was barely tested.
The final shots read: Islanders 33. Rangers 24. But it really wasn’t a fair fight in a lopsided first that saw the Long Island rivals dominate play at even strength and on special teams. They put up a three spot in a great period. It wasn’t as close as the shots (10-9 Isles) indicated. The Rangers came on towards the end to make it respectable.
There were far too many undisciplined penalties by the guys wearing the classic Blueshirts. Following player introductions even without fans, it didn’t take long for the Islanders to make themselves right at home. New Rangers defenseman Jack Johnson took a holding the stick minor with the game not even two minutes old. On a little bit of a break, Anthony Beauvillier had his shot bounce off Adam Fox right to Brock Nelson for a power play goal.
Before they even could get into the game, the listless Rangers turned over the puck resulting in Islanders captain Anders Lee surprising rookie goalie Igor Shestyorkin with a wrist shot that squeaked through. It gave the Isles two goals within a 1:19 span. The guilty party was Jacob Trouba, who got caught pinching at the Islander blue line. With only Miller back, he gave Lee the shot which a shaky Shestyorkin didn’t stop.
Already down a pair, coach David Quinn sent out Lafreniere with Filip Chytil and Julien Gauthier. An aggressive Lafreniere nearly had his first goal. He buzzed around the Isles’ net looking to stuff in a backhand. But Varlamov covered up. The teenager didn’t look fazed like some of his older teammates. Although he only had one shot in 18 shifts (15:27) with a hooking minor that Lee scored on to put the game out of reach later, he looked confident. Quinn even used him on the penalty kill. He tried different combinations due to how many penalties they took. Both Pavel Buchnevich and Chris Kreider each killed penalties.
Nothing worked. In an inauspicious debut, Johnson had a forgettable night. After being off while the Islanders scored on the power play, a simple dump in at center ice turned into an adventure. Somehow, Johnson had the puck take a funny hop right to Cal Clutterbuck, who fed Mat Barzal in transition for a pretty goal that made it 3-0.
Barzal skated by Johnson and put a juke move on Tony DeAngelo, who could only watch the dangerous Isles’ top center beat Shestyorkin high glove side inside the goalpost. It was a good shot, but one he should’ve had. That goal typified how brutal the Rangers were. It felt like preseason for them while the Islanders did whatever they wanted.
They took more undisciplined penalties including a lousy change that resulted in a bench minor for too many men on the ice. Quinn looked thrilled to death on the bench. At least the penalty kill improved as it went on. They didn’t allow the Isles anything on three consecutive power plays. There was even a very strong shift from an aggressive Kreider working the puck deep and killing 15 seconds. Buchnevich also showed more hustle when used.
For the most part, the Blueshirts had a much better second against a conservative Islanders, who chose to sit back. But with the top power play unit in particular failing to get anything accomplished, they didn’t test Varlamov enough.
It was actually the Rangers’ play at five-on-five that improved. With Quinn mixing up his lines, he had Julien Gauthier on for a shift with Ryan Strome and Artemi Panarin. Gauthier was the most consistent forward in the second. His grit and sheer hustle were noticeable. If anything came out of this game, he deserves more ice time. Gauthier received 10:12 in 16 even strength ahifts with two shots and four hits.
A frustrated Ryan Lindgren took an unnecessary run at Jordan Eberle by getting his shoulder up on the Islander who was headed to the bench. It was called a charging minor. Lindgren likes to play aggressive and I don’t mind the physicality. It just wasn’t the right moment. At least they bailed him out.
There were opportunities to get back in it. Varlamov made a good save on a quick Mika Zibanejad one-timer off a turnover. He got across and didn’t let up any rebound. He played well throughout. Zibanejad looked rusty in his first game. He missed most of training camp due to quarantine. He was not sharp and it showed. That line with Kreider and Buchnevich never got going. They were bottled up by the Islanders, who were splendid defensively. They blocked 20 shots including four apiece from defensemen Andy Greene and Adam Pelech.
The Blueshirts generated chances off the forecheck. Something that was absent in the first. The problem was Varlamov, who made half of his 24 stops in a busier second. He also caught a huge break.
The Rangers appeared to score on a play in tight before the whistle blew. Kevin Rooney was parked in front of Varlamov with Trouba poking at the loose puck behind the net. They celebrated because they knew it went in. However, they got screwed by the NHL on the intent to blow the whistle rule. One that needs to be adjusted. MSG replays clearly showed the puck cross the goal line before the whistle went. It was an absolutely horrendous miss by Toronto. It could’ve swung the momentum. That summed up an empty night.
Fresh off a line change following Kaapo Kakko somehow missing the net on a great setup, Lafreniere took a hooking penalty. This time, the Islanders were successful with Eberle passing for Lee in front with the puck going in for a four goal Islanders lead. Originally, Lee was credited with his second. But they appear to have changed it. It now reads Eberle PP from Lee and Noah Dobson at 14:54. I thought Lee got it by just getting enough of the puck with Trouba on him. I guess we’ll have to take another look. On second look, it should be Lee’s goal. Here it is.
That goal finished off the game. The Islanders played like a five man unit. At one point, with the Rangers fishing for a rebound on a big Varlamov save, the guys in the white and orange with navy blue jerseys all converged on the net and wouldn’t allow a Ranger near the puck. That’s how you know it’s a Barry Trotz coached team. They’re fundamentally sound. They can put you to sleep. That’s essentially what happened to the Blueshirts. They never had a chance.
The only noise that was made was by the little used Brendan Lemieux at the conclusion of the period. He swung his stick to at Jean-Gabriel Pageau leading to some chaos after the buzzer. It probably was a slash that went undetected. Instead, they called Lemieux for embellishment after Pageau roughed him up. It was mostly frustration.
For reasons only known to Quinn, Lemieux was sparingly used getting only 10 shifts for a game low 5:23. On a team that’s not hard to play against, that’s inexcusable. They must become a four line team. Even if Lemieux isn’t killing penalties, I don’t get it. Trotz has no trouble finding eight minutes for enforcer Ross Johnston, who looked concerned after accidentally having his leg collide with Rooney in the third.
Surprisingly, there were no fights. Only a boring final period that couldn’t end soon enough. They got dominated by a better team. The effort must be a lot better in the rematch on Saturday at Nassau Coliseum. If it isn’t, it could be a rough start.