NEW YORK, N.Y. – J.T. Miller scored his first two NHL goals and then cautioned everyone not to get used to it.
The teenage rookie found the net twice in his second career game to lift the New York Rangers to a 4-1 victory over the New York Islanders on Thursday night.
Miller, however, said setting up others is really more of his game. As long as pucks go in, the goal-starved Rangers will gladly take offence from anyone.
“I am more of a playmaker,” said Miller, who won’t turn 20 until March. “I’ve always had more assists than goals.”
Just not yet in the NHL.
Miller was kept off the scoresheet in his debut on Tuesday—a 3-1 loss at New Jersey—and didn’t add any assists on Thursday en route to claiming the “Broadway Hat” as the game’s MVP.
But as is his nature, Miller was already preparing to dish it to another worthy teammate.
“It’s a nice hat,” he said. “I’m looking forward to getting a win next time so I can pass it off.”
Miller gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead just 1:29 in and then pushed their advantage to 3-1 in the second period with a rare power-play goal for the club. Marian Gaborik also scored, defenceman Marc Staal had two assists, and Ryan McDonagh added an empty-net goal to give the Rangers their second win in three games.
“We wanted to have a good start,” Staal said. “We’ve been getting scored on first a lot. It’s tough playing catch-up in this league. We knew that first goal was important. We ended up getting two. That was huge for us and we were able to close it up.”
The Rangers have an eight-game winning streak over the Islanders at Madison Square Garden, outscoring them 35-11.
New York entered with 20 goals, tied for fewest in the NHL, but scored more than two for just the second time in five games. The Rangers connected for only the fourth time this season in 37 power-play opportunities—the worst percentage in the league.
“We have to find a way to get points,” coach John Tortorella said of his 5-5 Rangers. “I still think there’s a lot of sloppiness with our game. There are a lot of things that need to continue to improve.”
The Islanders’ struggles on the power play continued as they went 0 for 5. They have failed in 19 straight chances over three games after going 9 for 24 to begin the season.
Henrik Lundqvist made 27 saves as he started for the ninth time in the Rangers’ 10 games and earned his first win in three outings.
He, too, was pleased by the instant offence provided by the young Miller.
“It’s great. We need everybody to do good stuff for us,” Lundqvist said. “He plays so mature out there, making good decisions with the puck. It’s important. It definitely brings some energy to the group. Guys come in and do well right away.”
The Rangers also welcomed back captain Ryan Callahan, who had missed three games because of a shoulder injury sustained nine days earlier.
Callahan helped on the Rangers’ penalty-killing and added a different kind of assist—fishing out the first puck from the Islanders’ net to present to his young linemate.
“He just kind of does it all for the line of me and (Chris Kreider)—just two young guys,” Miller said. “It feels really nice to have a guy like that.”
John Tavares scored his fifth goal of the season in the second period to cut the Islanders’ deficit to 2-1, but they dropped their third straight after a 4-2-1 start. Evgeni Nabokov stopped 21 shots just hours after the Islanders acquired veteran goalie Tim Thomas from the Boston Bruins.
The 38-year-old Thomas has no intention of playing this season—the last year of his contract—and has been under suspension by the Bruins for failing to report to the club.
Miller started the scoring early with a snap shot from the lower left circle that beat Nabokov. Gaborik made it 2-0 with 5:56 left in the first period when he was left alone in front for a perfectly placed drive that produced his sixth goal of the season.
“We have to make the opposition’s defence work harder,” Tavares said. “We just weren’t good enough. That is unacceptable. Our effort and consistency has to be there for the full 60 minutes. We have good periods and good momentum but we’re not carrying it through.”
Tavares brought the Islanders within a goal 11:13 into the second period with a rising wrist shot from the right circle that eluded Lundqvist’s glove, but Miller struck again with 1:49 left in the period when he got by the defence and came right in on Nabokov.
“We can’t be satisfied with playing close,” Nabokov said. “We have to win. We didn’t play bad. We have to get better at every single detail on the ice.”
NOTES: Rangers D Dan Girardi missed his second straight game because of an undisclosed injury. … The Islanders will send a conditional second-round draft pick to the Bruins either next year or in 2015, depending on if Thomas plays for New York. … The Rangers benched forward Brian Boyle to make room in the lineup for Callahan. Tortorella was critical before the game of Boyle, who has one assist, a minus-3 rating and 11 penalty minutes this season. … The Rangers went 1-2 without Callahan. … D Lubomir Visnovsky passed a physical and was activated from the suspended list by the Islanders after he didn’t report to the club to start the season. He wasn’t in the lineup and might play Saturday vs. Buffalo. … The Rangers were caught with too many men on the ice for the fifth time this season.