Leave it to a veteran to put things into the proper perspective.
While Tuesday night’s Rangers-Islanders game was the first installment of “The Rivalry” this season, newcomer Johnny Boychuk and the Islanders were more interested in using it as a measuring stick after a hot start to a season with increased expectations.
“It’s a big test for us to gauge ourselves and where we’re at,” Boychuk told reporters Tuesday at Nassau Coliseum following the morning skate. “We’re a good team and they’re coming off being in the Stanley Cup Final.”
In the end, the Islanders won, 6-3. But they still weren’t ready to make any grand proclamations.
“Johnny [Tavares] said it best: We don’t want to fall in love with ourselves,” Matt Martin said.
The Islanders opened with a home-and-home against the Hurricanes, not expected to be among the league’s best, and won both.
One area in which the Islanders excelled against the Canes was the power play. The Islanders scored on four of their seven power plays Friday, which Islanders head coach Jack Capuano attributed to a simple philosophy.
“[The] power play has been real good for us because we’re shooting pucks,” Capuano said. “We’re finding the two-on-ones and we’re not trying to be too fancy. [Boychuk] has been a big plus on that first unit, shooting pucks.”
Still, for a franchise whose name had essentially become a punchline for the better part of two decades, the early results are reasons to create positive feelings.
And their urban rivals have taken notice.
“Anybody who’s taken a look at their team this year, and taken a look at their first two games, they’ve obviously improved their lineup,” Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said after his team’s morning skate at the Garden. “They’ve improved their defense, which improves their offense. They’ve got a lot of skill upfront, and a real energy line. They’re probably one of the more improved teams in the league.”
The game was tied entering the third mostly due to Jaroslav Halak, who made 30 saves in the first 40 minute, and a strong forechecking effort by Josh Bailey that directly led to John Tavares’ tying goal with 4:57 left in the second.
Then in a blink-and-you-missed-it span of 10 minutes and 11 seconds, Henrik Lundqvist was torched for four goals and the Islanders were on their way to their first 3-0 start to a season since 2001-02.
“We weren’t good enough for our standard [in] the first [two] periods. The third was a great period,” Travis Hamonic said, before noting, “It’s only three games.”
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.