NEW YORK -- Let’s not go calling the Rangers an offensive juggernaut just yet, but the Blueshirts recovered from a blanking Monday night to notch a trio of goals and edge the Islanders 3-2 in a come-from-behind win Tuesday night at Nassau Coliseum.
And if Tuesday’s match was a glimpse into what the team can do with a somewhat-healthy roster, there is still hope for the team to live up to its preseason expectations.
The return of Carl Hagelin proved vital to a Rangers squad toiling at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. The 25-year-old winger, who missed the first ten games of the season with a shoulder injury, gave New York a totally different speed element than they had to start the year.
“He’s just so good [at] forcing turnovers, obviously, but down low -- that was just his first night -- but we had so much more zone time down low and beneath the hashmarks and controlling it because he’s so good at darting into the holes,” Richards said. “It’s good for me, too, to have him back ... it was fun.”
Hagelin assisted on Pouliot’s game-winner with 6:14 to play in the third period and was happy to contribute after a long couple of weeks on the long-term injured reserve list.
“It’s so exciting to get back,” Hagelin said. “[I] had good energy. We were able to create some chances for the team and I’m just glad we got the 'W.'"
It wasn’t just Hagelin’s line that was productive for the Rangers. The troupe of Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello set the tone in the first period, swarming goaltender Evgeni Nabokov and hemming the Islanders into their own end.
Giving the Rangers their first power-play goal of the night, Kreider corralled a puck with his back to the net, spun and swept it past Nabokov for a 1-0 lead at 12:30.
Kreider’s reaction was a mixture of elation and relief when he tallied his first goal of the season. The jubilant celebration was a stark contrast from the dejected sigh he offered Monday night when recalling an open net that he failed to score on after being robbed by Peter Budaj.
“Those are the ones you always remember, and I think you’re better for it,” Kreider said, smiling now in his postgame comments. “I’m not going to get discouraged about that.”
The Rangers’ execution on the power play was also a marked improvement. Thwarted on all five opportunities in Monday night’s frustration fest versus Budaj and the Habs, the unit went 2-for-4 Tuesday. Their second power-play marker, which came on a blast from defenseman Ryan McDonagh, erased a 2-1 Islanders lead to knot the score 4:59 into the first period.
What was the difference from one night prior?
“Execution,” said coach Alain Vigneault. “They executed. They wanted the puck. They shot the puck. They were a lot crisper.”
It was Vigneault’s choice to give the nod to backup netminder Cam Talbot -- providing starter Henrik Lundqvist the night off rather than have him play in back-to-back games -- and the 26-year-old again proved himself capable.
Talbot, who has won two of his three starts this season, stopped 22 of 24 shots.
The two points gained in Tuesday’s visit to Long Island were critical considering the Rangers' position heading into the match. A mere point ahead of the beleaguered Buffalo Sabres before Tuesday’s win, the Rangers moved to 13th place in the Eastern Conference. More importantly, they are now only three points back from a playoff spot with a game in hand.
“It’s good for everyone. After last night, we came in here, ready to play and that’s exactly what we did,” Pouliot said.