NEW YORK (AP) – The addition of Marian Gaborik last season gave the New York Rangers an offensive boost, but no one else had more than 20 goals as they again finished in the league’s bottom half in scoring.
If their first game with Derek Stepan is any indication, they won’t have to worry about an extra source of offense.
Stepan became the fourth player to open his NHL career with a hat trick, a brilliant debut he’ll try to build on Monday as the Rangers visit the rival New York Islanders for a Columbus Day matinee.
Gaborik scored 42 goals in his first season in Manhattan, but the Rangers (1-0-0) had trouble giving him help as they finished among the league’s bottom 15 in scoring (2.67 goals per game) for a fourth consecutive season.
Signing winger Alexander Frolov was supposed to help, but New York began the season Saturday missing two of its top returning forwards – Chris Drury (broken finger) and Vinny Prospal (knee).
Stepan more than made up for their absences. A second-round draft pick in 2008, the University of Wisconsin product became the second player in the Rangers’ 85-year history to score three goals in a season opener, victimizing Vezina Trophy winner Ryan Miller in a 6-3 win Saturday at Buffalo.
“I was just kind of getting my feet wet in my first NHL game. And it was a fun process,” said Stepan, second in the NCAA last season in points (54) despite scoring just 12 goals. “I guess for me, it’s just one of those things where you kind of go, ‘I guess I got lucky.’”
Only three other players recorded a hat trick in their NHL debuts – one in the last 31 years. Stepan made it look easy centering New York’s third line with Sean Avery and Ruslan Fedotenko.
“I don’t think we expect him to score three every night,” said Henrik Lundqvist, who stopped 33 shots. “But if he does, we’ll take it.”
Brandon Dubinsky scored twice while Gaborik chipped in an assist, and the Rangers could have another big offensive performance Monday on Long Island. After scoring a goal apiece in their first two games against the Islanders (0-0-1) last season, they totaled 16 in going 3-0-1 over the series’ final four contests – with Gaborik recording four goals and three assists.
The Islanders allowed the third-most goals in the league last season and got off to a poor start defensively in their home opener Saturday. They outshot Dallas 47-22 but had to mount a two-goal rally in the third period to earn a point before falling 5-4 in a shootout.
Veteran Doug Weight liked what he saw.
“When you get 45-50 shots on goal, you’re doing some good things,” Weight said after recording a goal and two assists. “I came into camp looking for some good things. Tonight’s point was crucial.”
The point may have come at a price, however. Center John Tavares, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 draft, left with a mild concussion late in the first period after colliding with Dallas’ Adam Burish and didn’t return.
Tavares will be evaluated Monday, but his injury is the latest blow to a team already missing defenseman Mark Streit and forward Kyle Okposo due to shoulder injuries.
“The injury bug just continues against us,” goaltender Rick DiPietro said.
Islanders 18-year-old winger Nino Niederreiter, the fifth overall pick in the 2010 draft and the NHL’s youngest player, went pointless with two shots in his debut.
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