Coach David Quinn hopes his Rangers learned their lesson because they failed their first test against the Islanders. “Cheatin’ the game. There’s no shortcut in this game,” the third year coach said on a post game Zoom call after the first of 56 regular season games didn’t turn out as planned. “We were just playing hope hockey.”
The Islanders came out flying and scored three first period goals and never looked back en-route to a
4-0 shutout of the Rangers in the 2021 season opener in front of zero fans at the Garden last night. “We just weren’t prepared to play right from the get go,” Quinn said.
Islanders captain Anders Lee scored twice and the Rangers could never really generate much offense. They were frustrated by a lock-tight Islanders defense that blocked shots (20) and the Rangers reverted to last season’s habit of making too many passes while failing to get shots at the net. “Every time we get a puck, we stood and looked to see who we could make a pass to on the other side of the ice,” said Quinn about the Rangers’ resistance to consistently put pucks on net.
It was a surreal experience before the game as the Rangers introduced their 2021 roster to no applause. There was the usual ambiance for a season opener but having no fans in the stands made this ceremony seem like a dress rehearsal for a wedding. Quinn said, “When I walked on the bench and looked at Jacques [Assistant coach Jacques Martin] and said, ‘You know, you think you prepare for this but this is eerie.’”
Islanders’ goalie Semyon Varlamov made 24 saves for his 28th career shutout but he was never really tested. Varlamov was rarely screened as the Islanders played their game by making the opponent earn all the space they can get on the ice. “I don’t think we forced our way in there too much, I think we were too complacent on the outside,” a frustrated Jacob Trouba said on a post game Zoom call.
Rangers rookie goalie Igor Shesterkin looked nervous early on as he yielded two quick Islander goals less than four minutes into the game. The first goal by Brock Nelson wasn’t his fault. It was a deflected puck off of Adam Fox’s skate that came right to Nelson who fired it home. Lee’s first goal, that made it 2-0 was one that the 25-year old would like back as he clearly saw the puck but was beaten on the glove side for a “softie.”
What was encouraging was how Shesterkin played the remainder of the game, particularly in the third period when he was spectacular. After Mathew Barzal (1st goal of the season) picked Fox’ pocket and stole the puck from behind in the Ranger zone, Shesterkin came up big to deny a breakaway by the Islanders best player. The Russian native also stymied a couple of Lee’s attempts at his first career hat trick.
Offensively, the Rangers looked like last season when they were making too many passes and looking for the perfect play, but the Islanders had a hand in that. By blocking all those shots, it made the Rangers more gun shy than usual so that hesitancy to shoot was magnified two fold. Artemi Panarin made space for himself and was able to get off some good shots, but other players struggled to get room to operate. “That approach doesn’t work against anybody, let alone the Islanders,” Quinn said.
This was a tough opening game for this young Rangers team as they went up against a team that was two wins away from making the Stanley Cup Final last season. “Good lesson for our young group tonight. They [Islanders] don’t give you a lot, anything you get, you gotta earn.” Chris Kreider said after the game.
In the early going, Alexis Lafreniere and K’Andre Miller looked a bit over whelmed. With no pre-season games, the young players could not get any idea of the speed of the game until last night and it looked like it in the first period.
Lafreniere just missed on a couple of chances and was out of position at times while Miller was schooled by Brock Nelson on one play when the Ranger rookie defenseman missed his check and the Islander center blew right by him. “First couple of shifts were a lot of nerves but as the game goes on, you kinda forget about it,” the 19-year old Lafreniere said after the game.
Quinn felt, for a first NHL game, the #1 overall pick did okay. “He’s not intimidated by the big stage. He’s got swagger, which is a good thing. I just thought he did some good things as the night went on,” Quinn said.
Losing face offs was a familiar refrain for the Rangers as the Islanders copped that stat, 30-21. Filip Chytil was the biggest culprit as he lost 6 of 7 on the night.
Quinn was brutally honest about his team’s performance. “I hate to discredit, you hate to say we were bad and they were good. They did a really good job in a lot of areas and we certainly weren’t good in many, if any at all, Quinn said. “We gotta be quick learners because we play ‘em Saturday.” Very quick learners indeed.
Tune in to “Karpin’s Korner,” Sunday nights from 8-9 pm, eastern time on 365sportscast.com. Intelligent sports talk, interesting and informative guests and debatable opinions are the staple of the show. This week, Rick Carpinello, NY Rangers’ beat reporter for the Athletic will join me.