NEW YORK -- — Anders Lee finished with two goals and joined Brock Nelson and Mathew Barzal with first-period goals as the New York Islanders beat the New York Rangers 4-0 at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night.
“We know how important points are in a shortened season, we wanted to come out and play well,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “I thought our whole bench was moving their legs and doing all the right things.”
Igor Shesterkin made 29 saves as the Rangers fell in the first of eight games between the rivals. Alexis Lafreniere, the first overall selection of the 2020 NHL draft, made his debut and recorded one shot in 15:27 minutes of ice time.
“It was a good lesson for our young group in patient hockey and what it takes to win at this level,” Rangers alternate captain Chris Kreider said. “That’s a very detailed team, they don’t give you a whole lot. Anything you get, you got to earn. I think we relied a little too much on our East-West play, too much on our skill. … That’s a very good team, but we definitely didn’t play well.”
Barzal capped off the three-goal first period with an impressive stick-handling maneuver before sending the puck past Shesterkin. The Islanders signed Barzal to a three-year contract earlier this month worth a reported $21 million. The 23-year-old center has led the Islanders in scoring in each of his three NHL seasons.
Nelson scored his first of the season 2:33 into the first period on the power play. Anthony Beauvillier’s shot deflected off Adam Fox’s skate to Nelson in the slot for an early Islanders lead.
"When you get that close like we did last season, it makes you just want to get back to that spot and take that next step,” Lee said in reference to last season’s playoff run to the Eastern Conference final. “You can’t just get there, you have to play a whole regular season and put all the work in. It started with that mentality tonight, we got a long way to go. We have a great foundation to build off of.”
Lee doubled the Islanders’ lead 1:19 after the opening strike, scoring on a wrist shot from the right circle. Defenseman Nick Leddy recorded his second assist of the game on the goal.
Shesterkin became the first goaltender other than Henrik Lundqvist to start a season opener for the Rangers since Kevin Weekes in October 2005. Lundqvist signed with the Washington Capitals in October, but is unable to play this season due to a heart condition.
Lee was credited with his second goal after winning a puck battle. Twenty-one-year-old defenseman Noah Dobson also assisted on the Islanders’ second power-play goal.
“They are very structured, well coached, they’ve got guys that understand how to win at this level, they don’t beat themselves,” Rangers coach David Quinn said. “We didn’t play fast enough, we didn’t use our speed to our advantage.”
The Islanders enter the season after making it to the Eastern Conference final for the first time since the 1992-93 season.
The average age of a player on the Rangers’ active roster entering the season is 25.5 years old, which is the youngest in the NHL. It was the first time in franchise history that seven players 22 or younger (Filip Chytil, Adam Fox, Brett Howden, Kaapo Kakko, Alexis Lafreniere, Ryan Lindgren and K’Andre Miller) played in a season-opening game according to NHL Stats and Information.
The Islanders and Rangers play again Saturday at Madison Square Garden as part of a truncated 56-game schedule. The teams will square off seven more times this season as part of a travel-friendly East Division that includes the Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins.
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