When the Rangers went out this summer and added all this grit to their team, a lot of the reason had to do with watching up close how their rivals, the Islanders, used all that grit to their advantage. And as the Islanders’ fourth line, the one with Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Martin and Casey Cizikas, has developed quite the reputation of being the team’s Identity Line over the past few years, the Rangers clearly wanted to copy that formula, and build a fearsome fourth line of their own.
Going off Wednesday night’s 4-1 victory over the depleted Isles in the brand new UBS Arena, it appears they may have done just that.
The Rangers’ fourth line of Kevin Rooney, Barclay Goodrow and Ryan Reaves, outplayed their Islanders’ counterparts Wednesday and Rooney’s two goals – along with two by first line left wing Chris Kreider – powered the Rangers to a 4-1 win in their first visit to the Isles’ new home at Belmont Racetrack.
"Obviously, it's a rivalry game, so they're pretty easy games to get up for,’’ Rooney said. "They do have that fourth line over there that's talked about a lot, but we like ours, our fourth line. So, you know, that's all we really focus on.’’
Rooney’s first goal put the Rangers up, 2-0, late in the second period, but his second goal was the one that may have crushed the Islanders’ spirit. The Isles had just gotten on the board on a goal by Andy Andreoff at 3:52 that cut the Rangers’ lead to 2-1, but Reaves made a sweet play to drag the puck past sliding Islanders defenseman Thomas Hickey on a two-on-one break and then flip a backhand pass over to Rooney, who banged it in for his fifth goal of the season 20 seconds after Andreoff’s goal to put the Rangers up, 3-1.
"Their crowd's in it, they think they have the momentum, and it's demoralizing when you score and, before you can announce the goal, the other team scores and kind of takes momentum back,’’ Reaves said.
Kreider’s second goal, at 11:02 finished it.
Reaves, who’s much more well-known for his fighting skills than his playmaking skills, kind of laughed when describing his assist.
"I think the guy just kind of slid early and took away the shot, so I had to have to try something new,’’ he said. "I knew (Rooney) was open. So that was not a usual play for me, But I'll take it.’’
Kreider’s goals gave him 15 on the season, which pulled him into a three-way tie with Alex Ovechkin and Andrew Mangiapane of Calgary for second-most in the league. Rooney’s five goals are second-most on the Rangers, more than Mika Zibanejad, Artemi Panarin, Adam Fox and Alexis Lafreniere, who all have four.
"That won't last very long,’’ Rooney said with a laugh.
The victory was the sixth for the Rangers in seven games, and improved their record to 12-4-3. The Islanders (5-9-2) lost their seventh straight and third in a row in their new home.
The Rangers’ season-long search for a suitable right wing to play with Kreider and Zibanejad led coach Gerard Gallant to try something new: he moved the red-hot Kaapo Kakko up from the second line to play with the duo, and put fourth-line grinder Dryden Hunt into Kakko’s old spot on the right of the second line, with Panarin and Ryan Strome.
"We were sort of discussing it as coaches,’’ Gallant said of the decision to put Kakko with Kreider and Zibanejad. "You know, we sit there sometimes, we’ve got too much time on our hands, and we make decisions like that.
"We'll see where it goes tomorrow.’’