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Islanders shut out Rangers on opening night

The Islanders' Mathew Barzal, left, celebrates his first-period

The Islanders' Mathew Barzal, left, celebrates his first-period goal against the Rangers with Ryan Pulock at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 14. Credit: AP/Bruce Bennett

Not all games are going to go as smoothly as the season opener did for the Islanders.

But if they are to follow through on their own high expectations, Thursday night’s 4-0 win over the Rangers at Madison Square Garden provided a blueprint of what must go right.

The leaders led, those counted on to score scored, special teams made a difference and goalie Semyon Varlamov displayed a calm, midseason form in making 24 saves.

Brock Nelson, Anders Lee and Mathew Barzal had first-period goals and Lee scored again in the second period.

"I don’t know if it sets a tone," coach Barry Trotz said. "There are so many things out of our control going forward in a shortened schedule. But the little details were huge for us tonight. We were led by our leaders. Some of our leaders were fantastic."

The teams will meet again Saturday night at the Garden before the Islanders open their home schedule against the Bruins on Monday at Nassau Coliseum.

The Islanders, coming off their first Eastern Conference finals berth since 1993, are not shying away from their high aspirations for this season. They have not reached the Stanley Cup Final since 1984 after winning four straight Cups from 1980-83.

They made the playoffs in each of their first two seasons under Trotz, and the franchise has not been to the postseason three straight times since 2002-04.

"It is a lofty goal," said defenseman Nick Leddy, who had two assists. "It’s a great goal. We want to set the goal high. Especially after this past year, we know we can compete at a high level. If we play that system, we know it works. There are a few things we can clean up. Other than that, it was a good team effort and a huge win."

Lee said before the game that the Islanders’ level of "determination and focus, as a result of where we’ve been, it’s at the highest peak since we’ve been here.’’

He added, "I think we know what we have in front of us and the opportunity that’s here and in the group in the room. We just want to make sure we take advantage of our time."

After the game, he acknowledged that the Islanders believe they do have unfinished business after losing to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Lightning in six games.

"Yeah, I think there’s still something this group has to build off of," Lee said. "When you get that close, like we did last season, you want to get back to that and take the next step. We have a long way to go but we have a great foundation to build off of. I think our group is just excited for that challenge."

Nelson’s power-play goal from the low slot opened the scoring at 2:33 of the first period. Lee kept the puck on a two-on-one with Jordan Eberle and beat Igor Shesterkin (29 saves) from the left circle at 3:52 to make it 2-0.

Barzal, with a highlight-reel, short-side wrist shot after freezing defenseman Tony DeAngelo at the blue line, pushed it to 3-0 at 13:31.

Lee, positioned at the crease, deflected Eberle’s power-play shot from the right circle to make it 4-0 at 14:54 of the second period.

The Islanders were 2-for-8 with the man advantage, and an effective power play is another must-have for this season.

The Islanders were 24th in the NHL last season at 17.3% (29-for-168) and 15th out of 24 postseason teams at 15.4% (12-for-78). That included going 2-for-19 (10.5%) against the Lightning.

The penalty kill also was effective, as the Rangers went 0-for-3 on the power play with four shots.

"The first game of the year, we just wanted to come out good," Barzal said. "I can’t imagine if fans were in the building how crazy it would be for puck drop."

New York Sports