The New York Rangers needed this one. This win was that much sweeter because it came against the hated New York Islanders in their arena, the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
The Rangers’ effectiveness on special teams helped them stay in it. But, it would be a Benoit Pouliot wrister with 6:14 remaining in regulation that gave the Rangers (4-7-0) a 3-2 win over the cross-town rival Islanders (4-5-3). The Rangers held the 9th best offense in the league to two goals. They also scored three goals despite entering the game with the worst statistical offense in the NHL – having scored 15 goals in their first ten games, which included being shutout in three of those games. The performance was especially strong after Monday night’s tough 2-0 loss to the Montreal Canadiens in the home opener.
Cam Talbot, starting his third in four games, stopped 22 Islander shots for his second straight win. The Rangers’ backup goaltender has allowed two goals in each of his first three career games. Head coach Alain Vigneault decided not to start number one netminder Henrik Lundqvist in back to back starts and instead placed the increasingly capable and poised Talbot in the net.
Chris Krieder, who played on a line with Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello, had a strong night on both ends of the ice. The 22-year-old winger would open the scoring with his first career power play goal. After a solid wrist shot from Brad Richards resulted in a rebound, Krieder turned around from screening Islander netminder Evgeni Nabokov and swatted the puck into the net to give the Rangers the 1-0 lead. Richards’ assist on the play gives him nine points this season, which leads the team.
The Rangers would end the hard-fought period with a 1-0 lead and a large lead in two categories. The Blueshirts outhit the Islanders 11-5 and also held an 11-5 lead in faceoffs won. This seemed to coincide with the Rangers’ overall solid puck possession in the period. But, the Rangers would have to do without the services of center Dominic Moore for the rest of the game as he suffered an upper body injury.
The second period would see an increase in intensity, including a fight between Islander winger Matt Martin and the Rangers’ Derek Dorsett. In addition, the action bounced from one end to the other for most of the period. And though, the Rangers would outshoot the Islanders 15-7 in the second period, the Islanders would exit the period up by a goal.
Just past three and a half minutes into the second, Ranger defenseman Marc Staal tried to keep the puck in the offensive zone, but the puck took a bad bounce into neutral ice. Islander winger Cal Clutterbuck skated hard, taking the puck down into Ranger ice and firing a wrist shot past Talbot to tie the game. For Clutterbuck, it was his first goal with the team after being acquired in a draft day deal with the Minnesota Wild.
Late in the second, a shanked shot glanced off the nose of Peter Regin’s nose, off Talbot, then off defenseman Dan Girardi before hitting twine. The unlikely goal, Regin’s second of the year, gave the Islanders a 2-1 edge at the end of a raucous frame. And this despite the Ranger shot total and the 10 giveaways by the Islanders in the period.
When the Rangers beat the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday, they won their first game after trailing after two periods. The Rangers’ scoring in the third would drive them to number two. At 4:59 of the third, after a number of crisp passes in the offensive zone, Ryan McDonagh rocketed a shot past Nabokov for his second of the year and first career power play goal. Derek Stepan would earn his second assist of the night, while Mats Zuccarello assist on this goal would be his second point in three games. The goal came 30 seconds after the Islanders were called for too many men on the ice.
The back and forth play continued with the game tied and the grit that any fan would expect between the Rangers and Islanders was more than apparent. The chippy play even led to coincidental minors against the Isles’ Kyle Okposo and Rangers’ Carl Hagelin, who was participating in his first game of the season after recovering from off-season shoulder surgery. Even the diminutive Zuccarello was called for boarding after slamming Michael Grabner into the boards.
But, the Rangers showed confidence in their offense throughout the game – a far cry from the team that started the season with tough losses against the Coyotes, Sharks, and Ducks. One player that was brought in to bring supplemental offense to the team was Benoit Pouliot, who finally hit twine for the Rangers in their 3-2 overtime win against the Red Wings on Saturday.
At 13:46 of the third, Pouliot skated into the offensive zone and produced a nifty crisscross with Hagelin, who laid a perfect pass to Pouliot in the slot. With the Islander defense confused, Pouliot sent the puck over Nabokov’s glove with a wrist shot, lifting the Rangers to a 3-2 lead. Hagelin’s assist on the goal gave him a point in his first game back. Del Zotto, who also earned an assist on the play, scored his first regular season point since the next to last game last season (he got two assists against the Hurricanes on April 25th).
The Rangers were 2 for 4 on the power play Tuesday with 11 shots on goal with the man advantage, while killing off all three Islander power plays. The Isles came into the game with the best power play in the East and second best in the league, along with the seventh best penalty kill in the NHL. The Rangers’ entered the game with the 20th best power play and the 17th best penalty kill.
Nabokov made 21 saves in the loss for the Islanders.
As the final buzzer sounded, the Islander frustration came to the surface, further emphasizing that the rivalry between the two teams will continue just as the tradition should. Richards, Clutterbuck, and John Tavares were called for roughing penalties at the end of the game. The Rangers’ Derek Dorsett was called for a 10 minute misconduct, as was Tavares.
The Ranger win spoiled Thomas Vanek’s first game with his new team as the Isles acquired him from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for forward Matt Moulson and picks. In Moulson’s first game with the Sabres, he scored two goals in a loss to the Dallas Stars.
Here’s an early Christmas present for Ranger and Islander fans. These two teams will meet again at Madison Square Garden on December 20.
In the meantime, for their next game, the Rangers host the newly acquired Moulson and the Sabres on Thursday – Halloween night. It will be the first of four straight home games for the Blueshirts. They’ll face the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday. On Monday, they’ll have a chance to avenge one of their worst losses of the season when they host the Anaheim Ducks. Then next Wednesday, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and the rest of the Pittsburgh Penguins will get their first glance at the new-look MSG.