The Rangers quite literally flipped the script.
After getting blown out in their season-opener two nights earlier against the Islanders, the Rangers turned around and gave it right back, putting together their own 5-0 shutout performance over Barry Trotz and company at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.
The Rangers — coming off a 4-0 loss in which head coach David Quinn questioned their effort — finally showed up for the 2020-21 season. Even with their second-highest paid defenseman, Tony DeAngelo, in street clothes because of an undisciplined unsportsmanlike conduct penalty taken in the first game, the Rangers looked like the team that had the coaching staff gushing over their focus in training camp.
The effort was there. The smart passes were there. The Rangers were there.
“I was 100 percent sure we weren’t gonna be as bad as we were the other night, that’s for sure,” Quinn said on a Zoom call after the win. “Listen, I got to give a bunch of our leaders a ton of credit. Jacob Trouba stood tall tonight, played one of his best games as a Ranger but the stuff he did in between the last game and [Saturday] went a long way in us, putting us in the right mindset. Mika [Zibanejad], [Chris] Kreider, [Artemi Panarin]. I mean all these guys.
“Obviously, nobody was happy with what happened the other night, it was an embarrassing performance, but it’s all about how you respond to that. I’m hoping everybody’s off the George Washington Bridge by now and, you know, everything’s righted after tonight.”
Behind two goals each from Pavel Buchnevich and Panarin, the 1-1 Rangers got the boost they needed from their top line. While Alexandar Georgiev continued to have success against the Isles, recording his fifth shutout of his career with 23 saves in the win.
“The right words were spoken in the locker room, and it was a good lesson learned for all of us,” Panarin said through a translator. “We changed some things in our game, and we were happy with the outcome.”
The Islanders received an early omen their night wasn’t going to be a good one when starting goaltender Semyon Varlamov took a puck to the neck in warmups and had to leave the ice, throwing Russian wunderkind Ilya Sorokin into his NHL debut without warning.
The Rangers poured on the shots early, scoring on their second shot of the game and then jumping out to a 2-0 first-period lead. Mika Zibanejad stole the puck from Islanders defenseman Noah Dobson before he found Buchnevich on the 2-on-1 rush at 2:12.
Brendan Smith then intercepted a pass and hit a streaking Panarin, who sniped Sorokin on the right side to give the Rangers a 2-0 lead, at 13:46, and effectively putting their three-goal first-period breakdown in Thursday’s loss behind them.
“We needed to get off to a good start, we needed something good to happen early and it did, and we deserve to have something good happen early,” Quinn said. “I thought we really skated tonight. I thought we played at a pace; I don’t think our pace fell off. I thought we kept coming and coming and, you know, I thought we got better as the game went on too.”
After the Rangers struggled to stay out of the box Thursday, the Islanders took their fair share of penalties in the second, including two on Mathew Barzal. After Scott Mayfield got tangled up with a linesman, Buchnevich scooped up the puck and ripped a hard-angled shot from the left dot to make it a 3-0 game early in the second.
The Phillip Di Giuseppe-Filip Chytil-Kaapo Kakko line forced a turnover later in the period, with Kakko finishing it off on a one-timer at 15:24 of the second. After Ross Johnston was penalized for fighting Ryan Lindgren and Trouba in the third, Panarin cleaned up the garbage on the power play to cap off the scoring.
“It’s nice to see him score and smile the way he did after he scored,” Quinn said of Kakko. “He’s going to be a big part of what we got going on here and I’m just glad he got rewarded tonight.”