The theme emanating from both the home and visiting dressing rooms at Nassau Coliseum Tuesday night was about the details.
The overriding messages, though, were vastly different. The Rangers believe they are fine tuning their attack, while Islanders head coach Jack Capuano erupted at his team’s lack of attention after the Rangers’ 3-2 win over the Islanders Tuesday night.
“We definitely felt we competed for 60 minutes,” Derek Stepan said.
While one game is not a panacea, the Rangers have won two of three and the collective effort against their suburban rivals may show a team ready to turn a corner.
The Rangers had more shot attempts than the Islanders, 59-46, even though both teams were credited with 24 shots on goal. The Rangers also took advantage of the man advantage, scoring twice on four power plays while killing all three Islanders power plays.
“I think [being proactive with the puck] is a big part of the success [against the Islanders],” Stepan said. “Just dictate, try to play your pace of play, up-tempo. That’s something we’ve been trying to preach all season long.”
The Rangers jumped out to a 1-0 lead on Chris Kreider’s power-play dunk 12:30 into the first period. Standing uncovered in the low slot, Kreider spun away from Andrew MacDonald and tucked a rebound of Brad Richards’s point shot past Evgeni Nabokov (21 saves) for his first goal of the year.
Cal Clutterbuck equalized 3:40 into the second with his first goal of the season — and his first as an Islander. Clutterbuck beat Cam Talbot high to the glove side with a rising shot.
Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault nabbed Talbot to start because last night’s game was the second of a back-to-back, and the Rangers are beginning a stretch of nine games in 14 days. Talbot finished with 22 saves.
Selecting Talbot to start was not the only player personnel decision Vigneault made. Carl Hagelin made his season debut following offseason surgery to repair a torn left labrum.
Hagelin received 17:15 of ice time and recorded the primary assist on Benoit Pouliot’s game-winning goal with 6:14 left in the game.
“Felt good. It’s fun to be back and the shoulder was fine,” Hagelin said. “[Pouliot] battled through his check and went into the slot. I saw him wide open, pretty easy pass to make and he buried it.”
Befitting the rivalry, things took a turn for the bizarre before the end of the second period. With 41 seconds left in the period, Peter Regin was credited with the Islanders’ second goal although he never touched the puck. Travis Hamonic’s off-wing shot ricocheted off Talbot and Dan Girardi before bouncing into the net to give the Islanders a 2-1 lead at the second intermission.
The Islanders had a lead despite being outshot by the Rangers, 15-7, in the period.
It lasted for exactly 5:40.
With Kyle Okposo serving a bench minor for too many men on the ice, Ryan McDonagh’s power-play goal 4:59 into the third tied the game at 2-2. The game remained deadlocked until Pouliot’s game-winner.
Afterward, Capuano put the onus on his team.
“Again, it’s the same mistakes,” Capuano said. The Islanders are 1-3-1 in their last five games and have allowed 16 goals in that stretch. “Our defense read a 3-on-3 rush, totally off the charge that we just went over all week long. Our ‘D’ [has] to play better, that's the bottom line. We need to win more wall battles as our forwards, but our defense has to find a way to play better. We gave up one goal 5-on-5. [The] disappointing thing for me is the things that we go over and the things we talk about, they make the same mistake again.
“[The] same mistakes can’t happen.”
Last night’s game marked the only time in the 2013-14 season the Coliseum would play host to the rivalry. The Islanders will be the home team at the Jan. 29 game at Yankee Stadium. The Rangers will host the Islanders at the Garden on Dec. 20, Jan. 21 and Jan. 31.
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.