The New York Islanders looked as if the momentum from last season’s strong playoff run has carried over to the 2021 NHL season.
Showing the opportune scoring touch and tight defensive structure that bottled up opponents through their run to the Eastern Conference Final last summer, the Islanders got a complete game from their best players in defeating the Rangers 4-0.
The Rangers will have a chance for revenge on Saturday in the second game of this series at Madison Square Garden at 7 p.m.
This was only the second shutout victory in Islanders history in an opener following a shutout win in 1976 by Chico Resch, who blanked the Philadelphia Flyers.
“There’s no statement game for us,” coach Barry Trotz said after. “It’s the first game of the season against a rival. We know how important points are in a shortened season, so we wanted to come out and play well.”
The Islanders took a 3-0 lead after the first period and extended it to 4-0 in the second period, and then choked off most of the Rangers’ dangerous chances for the final 20 minutes.
Islanders Strong At Both Ends
This was Lee’s 25th career two-goal game, although amazingly, he has never had a hat trick. He came close to notching his first hat trick in the late stages of the game, but either he couldn’t finish or he passed off in an unselfish play.
CAN'T SPELL ISLANDERS WITHOUT ANDERS pic.twitter.com/RGlBmbb7Vm
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) January 15, 2021
Semyon Varlamov earned the shutout, stopping all 24 Rangers shots, while Igor Shesterkin made 29 saves for the Rangers.
Nelson has been a fast starter in his NHL career. Nelson now has four Opening Night goals, which is the most for any Islander since Derek King (4).
Lafreniere Held In Check
This game marked the debut of 19-year-old Rangers forward Alexis Lafreniere, the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL draft after an outstanding career in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, but he did not make much of an impact. Lafreniere had one shot on goal, and one penalty in 15:27 of ice time.
Also making his NHL debut was Rangers defenseman K’Andre Miller, the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NHL draft. He played 13:59 with one shot on goal.
Although the Islanders were strong on both ends of the ice, the Rangers shot themselves in the foot in this game by taking too many penalties. They took eight penalties overall, with the Islanders scoring on two power plays.
The penalties were not even good penalties that stopped goals. They were penalties like holding the stick or slashing, or too many men on the ice. This manpower disadvantage disrupted the flow of the game for the Rangers, who were 0-for-3 on their own power-play chances.
Big Line On Fire
The line of Barzal, Lee and Jordan Ebele dominated from the outset. Lee had seven shots on goal, Lee fired five shots on goal and Eberle directed three shots on goal. Overall, that line had 15 of the Islanders’ 33 shots on goal. Lee, with his 6-foot-3 and 235-pound frame, was an immovable force in front of the net on the power play.
WHAT A GOAL pic.twitter.com/oD6ARYSCTz
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) January 15, 2021
Barzal looked sharp even though he missed the first part of training camp in a contract impasse. He finally agreed to terms with the Islanders on a three-year, $21 million deal.
At one point in the third period, Barzal backchecked and picked Adam Fox’s pocket from behind and walked in alone on goal, but Shesterkin stayed with him and made a big stop. As skilled as he is, Barzal made too many moves and got in too tight to get off a clean shot.
Barzal said backchecking has been an area he’s been working on.
“That’s something I’m trying to include in my game over the past two years, being on the right side of the puck,” Barzal said. “I’m just trying to move my legs on the back check and maybe pick some passes off and make it tough on them.”
Lee remarked during the second intermission that the Islanders had a strong training camp, which accounted for the team’s strong start.
“We got to our identity right away,” the captain said.
Trotz Game Plan Executed Perfectly
This is the third season for coach Barry Trotz with the Islanders and the third as well for general manager Lou Lamoriello.
The Islanders did what they have become famous for. Blocking shots. In all, the Islanders blocked 20 shots to 11 blocks for the Rangers.
The other area where the Islanders dominated was in the faceoff circle. They won 58.% of the draws to only 41.2% for the Rangers.
Defenseman Nick Leddy was the workhorse for the Islanders, clocking a team-high 21:13. The Islanders also debuted a new look on the power play as Noah Dobson quarterbacked the Barzal unit. The forward with the most ice time was Barzal with 20:32.
The Islanders went 1-2-1 against the Rangers last season. This was the first meeting of the teams in regular-season play since the Blueshirts spoiled Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s Islanders debut with a 4-3 overtime win on Feb. 25.
This game also marked the first time since 2005 that Henrik Lundqvist was not in goal for the Rangers opener. Back in 2005, that goalie was Kevin Weekes.
What Comes Next?
The Islanders home opener will be on Monday, Jan. 18 at 5 p.m. Eastern against the Boston Bruins.
Overall, this was the best start the Islanders could have hoped for in the newly aligned East Division, with some tough rivals such as the Rangers, Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals, and Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Islanders are not the favorites to win the division. The Bruins and Capitals are on many lists of the favorites to finish on top. But this season is marked with so much uncertainty and it’s far too early to say how the Islanders will fare over the abbreviated 56-game season.
Four teams in each division advance to the postseason and this quick start is a big step in the right direction for the Islanders, who were only two wins away from reaching the Stanley Cup Final last summer. They want to prove that was no fluke.