In role reversal, more focused Blueshirts turn tables on Islanders

AP Photo by New York Rangers via Twitter

One thing we’re learning in the early going is that these two game series can turn very quickly. As putrid as they were on Thursday in a 4-0 defeat, the Rangers were way better than the Islanders in a Garden rematch that was every bit as lopsided. The Blueshirts exacted revenge by winning handily 5-0 to split the pair of games against their top rival.

The difference was noticeable early on. From the outset, they were the aggressor. Looking to establish a forecheck that was absent in the season opener, they were more active during shifts. The lineup changes worked for an irate David Quinn, who had to be much happier following his team’s complete effort.

This was more like it. A team playing with urgency taking it to the bitter crosstown rival. In particular, switching to Islanders master Alex Georgiev worked like a charm. The Rangers’ winningest goalie from ’19-20 didn’t show any signs of rust after a 10 month layoff. In his first action since dropping his last decision to the Avalanche on Mar. 11, 2020, Georgiev was very sharp throughout in stopping all 23 shots for his fifth career shutout. He improved to 6-2-0 versus the Islanders. In fact, he went 3-1-0 in all four meetings last year.

Even though they had the better of the play, the shots were 7-2 Islanders. That didn’t matter for two reasons. Georgiev was stopping everything and Pavel Buchnevich scored early on surprise starter Ilya Sorokin. His goal came off a Mika Zibanejad steal and feed that saw Buchnevich surprise the rookie Sorokin by firing a quick wrist shot under his glove at 2:12.

Making his first career NHL start in place of the injured Semyon Varlamov, who took a hard shot in warm-ups which sidelined him, the 25-year old KHL Russian import was a little shaky. For the night, he made 27 saves on 32 shots.

With three revised lines outside of the KZB Line of Chris Kreider, Zibanejad and Buchnevich, who was the best Rangers forward scoring his first two goals and assisting on another, they went with rookie top pick Alexis Lafreniere (+ 2 rating) on line two with Artemi Panarin (2 goals) and Ryan Strome (+1 rating). The third line consisted of Kaapo Kakko (1st goal of season), Phil Di Giuseppe (primary assist) and Filip Chytil (assist). The checking line consisted of Brendan Lemieux, Brett Howden and Julien Gauthier. It was a successful Garden recipe on Saturday night.

As for the new defense pairs minus Tony DeAngelo, Ryan Lindgren worked very well with a much more effective Jacob Trouba, who logged over 24 minutes and saw some power play duty. Adam Fox was fine with Jack Johnson, who didn’t make any glaring mistakes. Fox working double duty where he was featured on the point of the first power play unit. Brendan Smith dusted off his number 42 Blueshirt and was his usual gritty and physical self cast alongside a more relaxed K’Andre Miller. It worked out well in Game 2 of 56. The only issue is you can’t have half the defense receiving less than 16 minutes. That’s why DeAngelo should be back in for Tuesday’s match versus the Devils. We’ll see what Quinn decides.

Even though they took four minor penalties, the Rangers weren’t too undisciplined. Instead, it was the Islanders who were a step behind and kept handing their Manhattan rival power play after power play. Even though they only connected once in eight tries with Panarin finally breaking the drought in the third from Fox and Buchnevich, it gave the Blueshirts momentum while hurting the Islanders, who didn’t play well at all.

Mat Barzal took two penalties in the offensive zone that drew the ire of coach Barry Trotz. By the third period, the top Isles center was off the first line due to such lazy play. He was far from alone. It was a rough game for defenseman Noah Dobson. He turned over the puck a few times and was caught on for two goals against. Even Adam Pelech, Scott Mayfield along with normally reliable duo Brock Nelson and Anthony Beauvillier had off nights.

An Isles turnover resulted in the Rangers getting their second goal of the first period. Off a good defensive play by Smith, he made a perfect pass for a wide open Panarin to send him on a breakaway. The Bread Man didn’t miss. Moving in on Sorokin, he went high glove to beat the Islanders netminder for his first goal of the season. It was a perfect shot from a wonderful player, who had been quiet including on the power play before that moment. It got him going.

With Georgiev turning aside all 10 Islanders shots in a good period, the Rangers took the two-goal lead to the locker room. He got more run support in an inspired second where his teammates showed no mercy. After failing to convert on a pair of Barzal minors, the Rangers got it done at five-on-five. On kind of a strange play, Buchnevich came away with a loose puck and fired a hard wrist shot from a tough angle off the far goalpost and in for his second of the game. It definitely caught Sorokin off guard. That made it 3-0 at 5:57 of the middle stanza. It was unassisted.

The Rangers killed off a Kakko slashing minor right after to keep the momentum. Even though the power play still didn’t click, they continued to do damage at even strength. On a good shift from an active Chytil, who stole the puck in the neutral zone, he was able to get into the Isles zone and pass for Di Giuseppe. The quick counter led to Di Giuseppe finding Kakko open for a quick one-timer past Sorokin to increase the lead to four with 4:36 left in the second.

It was during the third that a clearly frustrated Ross Johnston lost it to earn a roughing double minor and misconduct after going after Smith and Lindgren. On the ensuing power play, some great passing from Buchnevich and Fox allowed Panarin to beat Sorokin pointblank with a great shot short side with 4:04 to go in the game. It put a stamp on the victory for the Rangers.

Georgiev stopped six more Islanders shots in the final period to pick up the shutout. It was well deserved for a player who more often than not has come through. It’s easy to forget he was undrafted and signed by the Rangers. His poise in net and maturity are probably why the team usually plays well in front of him. He also can move the puck up ice like Igor Shestyorkin, who got to watch his teammate deliver the first win of 2021. It wouldn’t be all that surprising if Georgiev gets the next start at home on Tuesday.

Three Stars of The Game:

3rd 🌟 Artemi Panarin, NYR (2 goals on 3 shots, +1 in 22:17)

2nd 🌟 Alex Georgiev, NYR (23 saves for 5th career shutout, 6-2-0 vs NYI)

1st 🌟 Pavel Buchnevich, NYR (2 goals, 1 assist, GWG, team high 5 SOG, +2 in 20:36)

Notes: The third pair of Miller and Smith each went plus-three. … Lafreniere logged 16:31 with three shots, nearly setting up a goal. … Buchnevich and Zibanejad were featured as a penalty killing duo each logging over three minutes while doing a splendid job. … Attempts favored NYR 65-38. … For a second consecutive game, Isles blocked 20 shots. Face-offs were 31-25 Isles led by Jean-Gabriel Pageau (11-and-5). No Ranger was over .500 with Zibanejad winding up 11 up and 11 down.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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