The New York Islanders erased a 2-0 third-period deficit on goals by Nick Leddy and Cal Clutterbuck but fell short in a 5-3 loss to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. It was the season opener for both teams. Chris Kreider’s breakaway goal midway through the third period put the Rangers ahead to stay.
“Even strength it was a close game, shots were 25-25,” explained Isles coach Jack Capuano. “They pounded shots on their power play, they had 12 shots on their power play and they got the big goal when they needed it.”
The Rangers controlled play in the opening 20 minutes and took a 1-0 lead at the 13:41 mark on a goal by ex-Islander Michael Grabner. Grabner was alone outside the crease to put home the rebound of a shot by Brandon Pirri and the Isles trailed 1-0.
The Islanders played better in the middle stanza but fell behind 2-0 on a bad deflection off an attempted by pass by Mats Zuccarello that bounced off the skate of Ryan Strome and between the pads of Isles starter Jaroslav Halak.
The Islanders came out with desperation in the early stages of the third period and managed to tie the game at 2-2 on goals by Leddy at 47 seconds and Clutterbuck at 4:04. Leddy let go a good shot from inside the point as the trailer on the play while Clutterbuck deflected home a shot by Nikolay Kulemin to even things up 3:17 later. Casey Cizikas assisted on both goals which were scored by the fourth line.
Clutterbuck explained that Kulemin was a good fit on the new fourth line, replacing the recently departed Matt Martin. “You swap out a straight-line player for a straight-line player, so it’s not that big of a change,” Clutterbuck said. “There are subtle things that we still get crossed up with just because we played with Marty for such a long time. That kind of stuff will work itself out, but generally it went pretty well.”
The Rangers took the lead for good on a long cross ice pass by Pavel Buchnevich who found Kreider a step behind Travis Hamonic at the Isles blue line. Kreider skated in alone with speed and faked out Halak before depositing a backhander into the vacated net. The Rangers led 3-2 at the 9:45 mark of the third period.
Pirri’s power-play goal at 16:11 sealed the win for the home team. Kreider’s pretty backhand pass found Pirri all alone on the right side of the ice after all four penalty killers converged on Kreider with the puck.
The Islanders pulled their goalie with a little more than three minutes left in regulation time in an attempt to overcome the two-goal deficit but J.T. Miller scored into the empty net to give the Rangers a 5-2 advantage.
Brock Nelson tallied with 1:35 left in the game to make the score 5-3 but the Isles could get no closer.
“We’ve got to find a way to generate more and be a little more effective on the forecheck,” Isles captain John Tavares said after the game. “We did some good things but we didn’t get the results we wanted.”
The Islanders head to Washington to face the Capitals Saturday night before the home opener Sunday afternoon against the Anaheim Ducks.
Anthony Beauvillier made his NHL debut and assisted on Nelson’s goal in the third period for his first NHL point.
Alan Quine, Mathew Barzal and J.F. Berube were the scratches for the Isles.
Last season, the Isles won all four games against the Rangers, the first season sweep dating back to the beginning of the rivalry in 1972-73.
Cal Clutterbuck and Anders Lee each had five hits to lead the Isles. Overall, the Islanders outhit the Rangers 31-24.
Other players making their Isles debut included defenseman Dennis Seidenberg and forwards Andrew Ladd and Jason Chimera. Chimera and Ladd played on the top line with John Tavares.