On a night full of new faces and new line combinations, it was a pair of old running mates that accounted for the New York Islanders' offense.
Cal Clutterbuck, Casey Cizikas and Nikolay Kulemin mounted a comeback effort for the Islanders, but the effort of the energetic trio was not enough, as the Isles fell to the New York Rangers 5-3 at Madison Square Garden on opening night.
"As we went on with the game, I thought we steadily got better," said Clutterbuck, whose goal tied the score 2-2 early in the third. "That's definitely a positive. It's always tough after the summer getting into that first game and your timing."
Clutterbuck and Cizikas looked comfortable with Kulemin, who was starting the season as the line's new left winger and Kulemin looked like he fit in with the grinding, hard-working mentality.
"You swap out a straight-line player for a straight-line player, so it's not that big of a change," Clutterbuck said. "There are subtle things that we still get crossed up with just because we played with Marty for such a long time. That kind of stuff will work itself out, but generally it went pretty well."
The line dug the Islanders out of a 2-0 hole entering the third period, as Clutterbuck and Nick Leddy scored a pair of goals in the opening 4:04.
On the first Islanders goal, Travis Hamonic led a rush up the ice and dished to Cizikas who found Leddy pinching off the blueline. Leddy finished the job, snapping one from just above the hashmarks, beating Henrik Lundqvist blocker side 47 seconds into the period.
Video: NYI@NYR: Leddy rips a quick shot past Lundqvist
The goal kickstarted the Islanders and when the energy line came out for their next shift, they connected again. Kulemin threw a puck on net from the half wall and Clutterbuck made contact, tipping the puck through Lundqvist's legs at 4:04 to tie the score.
But the comeback effort was undone five-and-a-half minutes later, as Chris Kreider got behind the Islanders' defense and beat Jaroslav Halak (34 saves on 38 shots) on a breakaway at 9:45.
"You're playing a good team and they have some good speed. Kreider got behind one of our guys," head coach Jack Capuano. "It's just unfortunate because we came back like that."
Kreider's go-ahead-goal didn't hold up as the game-winner, but the coach called it a turning point. With the Islanders playing catch-up down the stretch, a late penalty proved costly, as Brandon Pirri beat Halak through a screen for a power-play goal at 16:11. That sent the Islanders into desperation mode and JT Miller took advantage, potting an empty-netter at 17:37 to make it 5-2, making Brock Nelson's goal at 18:25 inconsequential.
The boxscore didn't tell the story for Halak on Thursday night, as the Islanders goalie looked sharp in his first regular-season game since March 8. Halak came up huge for the Islanders in the first two periods, stopping 12-of-13 shots in the first, including three point-blank chances by Rangers in the slot. The only goal to beat him in the first was a Michael Grabner rebound and Mats Zuccarello's second-period goal deflected off an Islanders' skate in tight. The loss did snap his personal eight-game win streak when matching up head-to-head with Lundqvist, who made 25 saves.
"We just have to learn from this and move on," Cizikas said.
The Islanders now head to Washington for a date with the Capitals on Saturday night. Puck drop is at 7 p.m.
NOTES: Anthony Beauvillier made his NHL debut on Thursday night, recording an assist, four hits, two penalty minutes and a shot in 10:52 TOI… The Islanders' four-game winning streak against the Rangers was snapped in the loss.