Artemi Panarin finally got his first taste of the Islanders, Rangers rivalry on Monday night at Madison Square Garden — a traditional clash of geographical neighbors that he helped bring to a new level over the summer.
So it was only fitting that he put on a show in his biggest game yet as a Ranger.
The 28-year-old winger scored two goals and added three assists on Monday night against the team he spurned in free agency, carrying the Rangers to a 6-2 victory over the Islanders.
“It was really intense and the fans were really loud,” Panarin said of his debut in the New York rivalry.
He’s already off to a franchise-best start this season, reaching the 60-point mark by his 43rd game of the season. He broke Wayne Gretzky’s mark of 59 points set at the start of the 1996-97 season.
In the following two games — including his five against the Islanders — Panarin has put up seven points.
“He just continues to one-up himself,” Rangers head coach David Quinn said. “Just when you think you’ve seen it all, he just does so many great things for us.”
Following two seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Panarin was one of the marquee free agents available during the offseason and a top target for both the Islanders and Rangers.
While the Islanders don’t usually go big-game hunting given their small-market reputation built over the last 25 years, general manager Lou Lamoriello reportedly offered Panarin a deal carrying an average annual salary of $12.5 million.
Islanders captain Anders Lee even held off on signing his new contract with the team to make sure a potential Panarin deal could fit within the team’s cap space.
It was the largest offer on the table for Panarin, but he opted to take less money to sign with the Rangers.
“When we signed him over the summer, everybody stands a little bit taller and they put their chest out a little further and they have a little more swagger,” Quinn said. “He’s given us a lot more than just that.”
Meeting the Islanders for the first time since then didn’t do much to rattle Panarin’s psyche, though.
“No, it was just a regular game,” he told AMNewYork Metro. “It might just be some summer things between the Rangers and the Islanders. But it was just a regular game.”
Still, his decision provided a sizable blow to the Islanders, who are still in need of a front-line goal scorer to pace an inconsistent offense. Entering Tuesday night’s matchup with the Detroit Red Wings, the Islanders rank 12th in the Eastern Conference in goals scored. Putting up two against the Rangers on Monday night didn’t do much to improve that standing.
While the Islanders are still amongst the best teams in the Eastern Conference, they’re forced to look across town to watch Panarin tear it up with the Rangers.
And they won’t be done seeing him any time soon, either. The Islanders and Rangers play two more times in the next week to round out a three-game miniseries in just eight days.
If Monday night was an indicator of things to come, Panarin should be plenty excited.
“We have two more games this week,” he said with a grin. “So we’ll see.”
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