NEW YORK — The Bread Man delivered in his Broadway debut.
So too, did the team’s other marquee offseason acquisition, as the Blueshirts got some early bang for their buck.
Artemi Panarin and Jacob Trouba each scored in their first game with their new team — while combining for five points — and the New York Rangers overcame an ugly defensive night to beat the Winnipeg Jets 6-4 in a wild season-opener on Thursday at Madison Square Garden.
“It’ll certainly take a little bit of a load off of them,” Rangers coach David Quinn said, referring to Panarin and Trouba both finding the back of the net. “Listen, it certainly wasn’t Picasso out there, but we found a way to win. And at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.”
Panarin (seven years, $81.5 million) and Trouba (seven years, $56 million) both arrived in New York with massive contracts and massive expectations. The Rangers finished 20 points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference last season, but brought in the star winger (via free agency) and defenseman (via trade) to help expedite their rebuilding process.
There’s a new core in place.
And it’s a New Era in Rangerstown.
Panarin (one goal, one assist, plus-three in 19:04) and Trouba (one goal, two assists, plus-one in 24:26) both made their presence felt in the second period. Panarin fired a rebound upstairs from the left circle on the power play, while Trouba rocketed a point shot top-shelf.
Each time, the Garden crowd erupted.
The Rangers are hoping the duo can help their 17th-ranked power-play unit and 23rd-ranked offense (in terms of total goals) from a season ago.
“It relaxed me a little bit,” Panarin, who skated on a potent top line with Mika Zibanejad (one goal, three assists) and Pavel Buchnevich, said through an interpreter. “It was really important. The first game was intense and a little bit all over the place. I’m just really happy I was able to do it.”
Facing his former team, Trouba was extremely impactful. With the Rangers trailing 4-3 early in the third, he was able to spring Zibanejad for the game-tying breakaway goal with a perfect stretch pass.
“I’m sure when I look back on it I definitely will,” Trouba said of the extra enjoyment that comes with beating his old teammates. “That was fun. I’d like to see a little better defense, but for the most part that went pretty well.”
Third-line center Brett Howden ultimately potted the go-ahead goal by converting on a rebound in front with 4:05 remaining in regulation, as the Rangers claimed two points despite being outshot 47-32 and taking five minor penalties (four of which they killed off).
Defensively, they looked out of sync at times, failing to make a strong first pass. Power forward Blake Wheeler scored twice, with Winnipeg’s physical forecheck pinning New York in its own zone for long stretches of the game. But goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, now in his 15th season with the Rangers, made 43 saves to secure career win No. 450.
“We were opportunistic to say the least,” Quinn said. “There were a lot of guys making their Ranger debuts, and you could sense it.”
Panarin, however, said he wasn’t really nervous.
“Not too much, but not relaxed (either),” he said in English.
No. 2 overall pick Kaapo Kakko didn’t score in his NHL debut, but he certainly made an impact, showing off some nifty stick-handling moves as he weaved through a pair of defenders to get a quality shot off midway through the second.
“He looks pretty stoic,” said Quinn, who was pleased with the way his highly-touted rookie played. “I don’t think he gets nervous.”
Whatever the case, the Rangers were able to come out on top. They’re young and hungry. Mistake-prone and talented.
Things may need to break right for them to get into the playoffs.
Either way, with the added offensive firepower Panarin and Trouba both bring to the table, they’re going to be fun to watch.
Their fans certainly thought so, creating an electric atmosphere at MSG.
“The crowd is great anywhere for the first game, but now I’m a New York Ranger, and the atmosphere is the best it’s ever been for me,” Panarin said.
The goal now is to try and find both chemistry and consistency.
“It was the first game and this is normal,” Panarin said of the team’s shaky play. “It’s only going to get better from here.”
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