The youngest Ranger was the leading man on the night The Rivalry was renewed on center stage, as J.T. Miller scored his first two NHL goals in the Rangers’ 4-1 win over the Islanders Thursday night at the Garden.
With the win, the Rangers improved to 5-5-0 this season, and hold a 117-99-19-6 advantage all-time over the Islanders.
“I’m just trying to stay on an even keel here. Obviously it was nice for me but even better go get the win on home ice and a big bounce back from the last game. We just have to keep looking forward,” Miller said while wearing the Broadway Hat, given by the team to the game’s best player. He noted that his mother, grandmother and girlfriend were in attendance.
“It’s nice to get it out of the way,” Miller said of scoring his first goals at the Garden. “I was just trying to look past [the first goal] because we had a lot of game left so [I] just tried to keep plugging along.”
Ryan McDonagh and Marian Gaborik added goals. Gaborik’s was his first since Jan. 26, even though he is tied for fourth in the league in that category. Henrik Lundqvist made 27 saves. His lone mistake was yielding John Tavares’s fifth goal of the season.
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“It’s been a bumpy start for us but we’re working really hard right to try and correct everything,” Lundqvist said. “I thought tonight we did a lot of good things. Tonight we got a good start.”
One-third of a newly formed second line with Chris Kreider and the returning Ryan Callahan, Miller opened the scoring 89 seconds into the match. Miller corralled a Mark Streit turnover at the Islanders’ blueline and sped past Brain Strait before roofing a shot over Evgeni Nabokov (21 saves).
“It’s so important for the organization to keep filling in with kids,” Rangers head coach John Tortorella said. “Cap world, youth, enthusiasm. [Carl] Hagelin comes up here and changes our team last year.
“[Miller and Kreider] have contributed in the first couple games. Hags brought speed. They’re two different type [of] players. I think Miller — he’s what, 19? — he has a lot of puck poise for such a young kid. He’s a bigger body. He’s a different type player.”
Gaborik increased the lead to 2-0 when he stuffed a rebound of a Marc Staal shot past Nabokov.
Tavares cut the lead in half at 11:13 of the second but Miller made sure the Islanders would come no closer with his second of the game on a semi-breakaway seven minutes later. McDonagh, who finished with two points in 24:42 of ice time, sprung Miller with a gorgeous headman pass. A deke opened a hole between Nabokov’s legs that Miller snapped a shot through to give the Rangers a 3-1 lead.
“I was trying to go right over his blocker,” Miller said. “I think it went through his arm; it’s nice for it to go in.”
The Islanders have lost three in a row. One of the culprits in the slide has been a suddenly impotent power play. The Islanders were 0-for-5 on the man advantage last night and are 0-for-19 in the last three games. Adding to the collapse of the Islanders’ specialty teams units was the fact that Miller’s second goal came on the power play.
“Some guys played tentative and some guys didn’t take hits to make plays. You’re not going to win like that,” Islanders head coach Jack Capuano said. “I told them after the game that I was disappointed with some guys and their battle level.
Our power play couldn’t get it going when it was a one-goal game. Special teams are still a factor.”
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.