When the Islanders and their fans woke up on Thursday January 14, 2021, it was with a palpable sense of excitement, for the team was playing its first game since an excruciating, season-ending Game 6 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on September 17, 2020.
And that excitement manifested itself in the form of determination for the Boys from Long Island; a feeling Captain Anders Lee pointed out during his morning media availability and was punctuated during the Isles 4-0 victory over the Rangers on opening night at Madison Square Garden.
“I think our level of determination and focus, as a result of where we’ve been and where we’ve come to, it’s at the highest peak since we’ve been here,” said Lee before the game. “I think we know what we have in front of us and the opportunity that’s here and in the group in the room. We just want to make sure we take advantage of our time.”
Little did onlookers know just how true that statement was.
The pomp and circumstance that usually goes along with opening night was present at MSG, although there were no fans in attendance; which made the piped in crowd noise and the whole presentation feel just weird. But hey, HOCKEY IS BACK, so who cares.
Barry Trotz’s boys played as if finding their sea-legs — or rather, skates — for the first couple of shifts, even though he went with an old standby option by starting his “Energy-Line” of Matt Martin-Casey Cizikas-Cal Clutterbuck.
That quickly changed though as Rangers’ off-season import, Jack Johnson was called for a “holding the stick” penalty when the officials caught him grabbing Lee’s stick. Brock Nelson cashed in for the Isles’ first goal of the game — and season — when he sniped the ping-ponging puck past Igor Shesterkin, after Anthony Beauviller’s pass deflected off Jericho, New York native, Adam Fox’s skates; straight to Nelson’s waiting blade.
The 1-0 Islanders lead at 2:33 of the first was the spark the Nassaumen needed to get themselves going as they quickly added on; courtesy of a goal by who else? The Captain, Anders Lee. Lee’s two-on-one rush up the ice, after he was actually headed to the bench before reversing course, caught Rangers rookie defenseman, K’Andre Miller in a bind and the veteran Lee welcomed the kid to The Show by faking him out ever so slightly before shooting the puck past Shesterkin for the 2-0 Isles lead.
Lee’s goal at 3:52 was the end of the scoring for a while as the teams traded sloppiness and penalties galore. Josh Bailey and Mika Zibanejad took turns in the sin bin before Mathew Barzal showed he had absolutely zero rust from his near week-long, contract-related camp absence by turning Tony DeAngelo inside-out after dangling past Jack Johnson and shooting the puck over Shesterkin’s glove for the 3-0 visitor’s lead.
That was the end of the action for the first period except for a brief “too many men on the ice” penalty by the Rangers (a bugaboo for the Blueshirts last season), during which the Isles did not convert on the power-play.
“We want to set the bar high for ourselves,” said Nick Leddy after the game, “especially after this past year, we know we can compete at a high level every night. That should be our mindset every game.”
The Islanders’ collective determination seemed like it would carry over into the second period, but sloppiness continued to abound on both sides as they combined to commit SIX penalties — with each getting called thrice during the frame. (Albeit, two were called after the whistle had sounded to end the period).
However, through all the chaos the Boys from Long Island managed to tack onto their lead as Anders Lee netted his second of the game — this time on the power-play — from his “office” (directly in front of the net) to make it 4-0 Isles at 14:54 of the second period.
“It’s always nice to get a few,” said Lee after the game. “Nice to see us hone in on some good plays.”
As I alluded to before, the second period came to a close with J.G. Pageau throwing a “light” punch at Brendan Lemieux after the final whistle and Lemieux “taking a fall,” which resulted in a four-on-four situation at the start of the third period. (Who ever said you need fans to get these two archrivals going?)
The third period began and more shenanigans ensued as Tony DeAngelo was called for not one, but two penalties on the same play, which surely aggravated Rangers Coach David Quinn and perhaps Barry Trotz too seeing as his team failed to capitalize on the four minutes of power-play time it was awarded.
From there the Isles mostly cruised through the final period and Semyon Varlamov was hardly tested; although there were a couple of exciting moments. And then it was just a matter of time before the Nassaumen had their first official win (a 4-0 shutout) of the regular-season; which is just step one of their plan to go all the way this year.
As Isles Head Coach Barry Trotz said prior to the game, “You look at it as a playoff series. You want to get that first game. You want to get that psychological edge.” Trotz later added this after the game: “We know how important points are in a shortened season.”
Brendan Burke said this after the Islanders’ Game 1 victory against Pittsburgh in the 2018-19 playoffs and it also applies tonight: “Game One, To The Island!”
This was the Islanders first opening night shutout since 1976-77 when Glenn “Chico” Resch turned the trick against the Flyers in Philadelphia…The Isles went two-for-eight on the power-play and three-for-three on the penalty-kill…The Isles outshot the Rangers 33-24…Islanders goal-scorers: Brock Nelson (PPG), Anders Lee (x2) (PPG), Mathew Barzal). Assists: Anthony Beauvillier, Nick Leddy (x2), Cal Clutterbuck, Noah Dobson, Jordan Eberle…The Islanders improved to 15-5-1 against the Rangers since the start of the 2015-16 season.
Next Game: Islanders @ Rangers (at MSG) at 7pm(EST).