Everyone in hockey seems to admire the balance, defensive commitment, training and enthusiasm of the islanders.
Everyone in hockey also seems to agree on their biggest deficiency: the lack of an offensive elite finisher.
That reality helped make the Islanders-Rangers game Monday night at Madison Square Garden very interesting, because it was impossible for fans of the islanders not to wonder what it could have been.
On their first look in person at the elite talent that escaped last summer, the islanders saw Artemi Panarin contribute two goals and three assists to defeat the Rangers 6-2.
The islanders had chased Panarin as a free agent, beating the Rangers, only to see the talented Russian cartel with the Blueshirts anyway, for seven years and $ 81.5 million.
In the middle of the season, he has shown why both teams in New York were prepared to throw money at him.
Upon entering Monday, he was tied for fifth in the NHL with 62 points. The first islander on that list? Mathew Barzal, tied for 50th place with 37 points. The next? Brock Nelson, tied for 92nd with 31st.
Then the game began.
Panarin helped in the Rangers’ first goal, when Jesper Fast bounced his shot. He helped in the second, when Chris Kreider hit his shot. He helped in the third, when Jericho’s own Adam Fox made it 3-1.
Then Panarin made the 4-1 at the beginning of the third, scoring in a getaway. Then he scored again, tying his career with five points in a game. So get 67 points this season for the new boy.
When one considers that the most skilled player of the islanders, Barzal, is a creator of games by nature, it is tempting to consider what it would look like in a line with Panarin.
But coach Barry Trotz is not allowed to go there. “I can’t, because he’s not on our team,” he said before the game. “I just deal with what I have, and we just look at that.
“There was an opportunity last year that we were obviously looking at him, but he is not with us.” So I really don’t look back. I try to look forward.
Fair enough. It is also fair to note that the islanders have 58 ranking points compared to 48 of the Rangers.
But in a sense, it makes Panarin’s decision to sign with the Rangers more difficult to swallow: the islanders would have offered more money and more victories.
Many assumed that Panarin was determined to play in Manhattan independently and the islanders simply provided bargaining influence. Certainly there are no signs that he repents. On the contrary, he seems to be enjoying himself immensely.
“At the beginning of the season it was not really easy due to a new contract and a new team, all new,” he told Newsday before the game. “Right now, it’s much better.”
Panarin, 28, said his decision to sign was reduced to a simple metric. “It was in my heart,” he said. “I usually do that. . . I look inside.
After five seasons in the NHL, his English is improving but limited. He doesn’t lack people happy to talk about him.
“The skill is obviously the first thing you notice, but what a lot of people don’t see is how hard it competes, how hard it works and how good it is,” said Ryan Strome, Panarin’s line mate and a former islander. .
“Having him on the wing is crazy, the way he sees the ice and the plays he makes, makes the game very easy for me.”
Mika Zibanejad said: “I knew it was really good; I didn’t know if it was that good. . . It’s amazing what you can do with the disc and how you read the game. It’s fun and you learn one or two things every day. “
When asked how an opponent can deal better with Panarin, Trotz laughed and then said: “Keep him in the bank as much as you can, that would be the best. The flu virus, things like that. He’s such a good player.” .
Strome did not disagree with the idea that his former team could benefit from a sniper like Panarin. “Of course,” he said. “But on the day, each team needs a guy like him, right?”