True to the New York rivalry, the Rangers ensured they were the third NHL team to deprive the Islanders of their first win at their new UBS Arena.
While they may have been facing a minor league version of the Islanders lineup, which has been severely depleted in recent days due to a COVID-19 outbreak and a couple of long-term injuries, the Rangers handily took a 4-1 victory to secure their sixth win in their past seven games Wednesday night in the recently opened $1.1 billion arena at Belmont Park.
“Every team has good players in the minors, good players that are hungry coming up into the system that want to prove themselves when they do make it up here,” said Ryan Reaves, who recorded is first multi-point game as a Ranger and first since Jan. 2, 2018, with two assists in the win. “You can’t take teams like that lightly. Those are sometimes the hungriest teams and if you take them lightly, they’ll step on your throat quick.”
The Rangers kept the Islanders at a safe distance through a majority of the game, with the new-look fourth line of Reaves, Kevin Rooney and Barclay Goodrow propelling the forecheck and buzzing offensively all night. Rooney recorded the first two-goal game of his NHL career, making him the second-highest scorer on the Rangers with five tallies this season.
While the fourth line combined for two goals and three assists, Chris Kreider continued to be an offensive juggernaut. After burying his ninth power-play goal of the season early in the second period, which pulled him even with the Oilers’ Leon Draisaitl for the NHL lead, Kreider extended the Rangers’ lead to 4-1 at 11:02 of the third.
“Those guys were monsters tonight,” Kreider said of Rooney, Reaves and Goodrow. “They’ve been, most nights, our best line, most consistent line. We talk a lot about driving the net, getting pucks to the net for rebounds and that was a fantastic example of how you do that, how you execute that.”
Seven of the Islanders’ 18 skaters Wednesday night are usually mainstays on the team’s AHL affiliate in Bridgeport. But after the coronavirus ravaged the lineup in the past week, sidelining seven of their core skaters — including Josh Bailey, Anders Lee and Adam Pelech — suddenly players like Robin Salo, Grant Hutton and Sebastian Aho are playing substantial minutes on the Islanders’ defense.
And when it rains, it pours. Shortly after learning they’d be without Brock Nelson for two to four weeks and Ryan Pulock for four to six weeks, the Islanders announced just before the start of the game that defenseman Noah Dobson was day-to-day with an undisclosed lower-body injury.
The Islanders’ most experienced blue-liner Wednesday night was Scott Mayfield.
“It doesn’t matter what lineup we put out there, you’re in the NHL,” Isles coach Barry Trotz said. “You can either get it done or you can’t. And we can’t look at all the people who are out. If you get an opportunity to get in there, give what you have.”
It was a physical affair from puck drop, with the Islanders more than doubling the Rangers’ hit total, 11-5, through the opening 20 minutes. Not many teams have out-hit the Rangers this season, but given the state of the Islanders lineup, the home team tried to dial up the aggressiveness to mask the inexperience in its game.
Though it came against a barren Islanders squad, the Rangers were able to flash their newly acquired physicality against the very team — or a version of it — that identified it as an issue. Even Alexis Lafreniere got involved, dropping the gloves with J-G Pageau after the Isles winger laid a big hit on Rangers defenseman Ryan Lindgren.
“He didn’t get punched,” Reaves said of Lafreniere’s fight. “So that’s a win to me.”