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New Faces Lead Rangers to Opening-Night Win

Five of seven debuting Rangers score points

by Matt Calamia @MattCalamia /

What a first impression.

Five of the seven debuting Rangers picked up a point in the Rangers' 5-3 season-opening victory over the Islanders at Madison Square Garden.

Brandon Pirri scored a goal - the game-winner - and added an assist while Michael Grabner picked up his first goal as a Ranger. Chris Kreider had a goal and an assist and Mika Zibanejad had two assists. The debuting Pavel Buchnevich picked up his first NHL point and Nick Holden had a helper of his own in his Broadway debut.

"You want to be able to contribute, when that's your role, you want to be able to contribute offensively," Zibanejad said. "A good start is obviuosly better than a bad start." 

Grabner, who spent five seasons with the Islanders, opened the scoring at 13:41 of the first period when he slammed home a rebound shot from Pirri. Jesper Fast, the third member of the fourth line, picked up the secondary assist.

Video: NYI@NYR: Grabner buries a rebound past Halak

The game would stay that way until 17:41 of the second period when Mats Zuccarello's shot deflected off an Islander skate and through Jaroslav Halak to extend the Rangers' lead to 2-0. Zibanejad and Brady Skjei tallied the assists, with Skjei's point being the first regular season point of his career.

The Islanders, though, quickly erased its two-goal deficit in the opening minutes of the third period. Defenseman Nick Leddy opened the scoring for the Islanders just 47 seconds into the final period before Cal Clutterbuck's tally at 4:04 knotted the game at two goals a piece.

Video: NYI@NYR: Kreider beats Halak for go-ahead goal

But the Rangers had an answer for the Islanders and it came midway through the period when Buchnevich sent a pass through the air that Kreider caught just outside the Islanders' blue line. The speedy winger broke in alone and went to his backhand to beat Halak to put the Rangers up 3-2 with 9:45 remaining in the contest.

"Obviously, that's being a power forward, using his speed when he has the puck and using his speed on the forecheck to create a turnover," head coach Alain Vigneault said. "Power forwards have to go to the tough areas, and we saw that tonight. It was a good start for him and his line. I thought they had a good game and it was a good start for our team."

The Zibanejad line picked up where it left off in the preseason and combined for five points.

"I think we compliment each other in a really good way," Zibanejad said. "There's a lot of communication out there and on the bench and in the locker room and just getting the little details right, and I think it helps with [Buchnevich's] English not being so well because I think we have to keep it simple when we use the terms in the system and that kind of gives us the automatic of keeping it simple in the game. I think we read off each other really well and it's just clicking."

Video: NYI@NYR: Pirri buries Kreider's great feed for a PPG

Pirri would add a power play goal, which made it 4-2 but would turn out to be the game-winner, with 3:49 to play.J.T. Miller potted an empty net goal with 17:37 left to ice the game. Brock Nelson would score late to trim the lead to 5-3.

"We knew they were going to come [in the third period]," said Pirri, wearing the Broadway Hat. "I don't think we'd like to give them the odd-man rushes that they got, but at the same time they've got some talented players over there. I thought we did a great job. We're a real resilent group in here, and at the end of the day we got the two points."

Henrik Lundqvist was strong for the opening 40 minutes of play, eliciting several 'Hen-Rik' chants in what was his 11th consecutive season-opening start for the Rangers. No. 30 made a flurry of nice saves after allowing the two quick goals to preserve the win for the Blueshirts. He finished the night with 25 saves.

While he did not factor into the scoring, Jimmy Vesey finished the night with 13:02 of ice time skating alongside Derek Stepan and Zuccarello. 

"Tonight was awesome, stepping into the New York rivalry," Vesey said. "The fans here at MSG were awesome and it was a great game to start my NHL career.

Prior to the game, the Rangers celebrated the start of the 90th season with alumni throughout the franchise's storied history, including Mark Messier, Brian Leetch, Adam Graves, Mike Richter, Rod Gilbert and Eddie Giacomin.

"For our fans, as coaches and players, that introduction there to see all of the alumni come out as Original Six with 90 years of history - that was great for us and I'm sure it was great for our fans," Vigneault said. 

Video: Rangers 90th Anniversary Ceremony on Opening Night

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