NEW YORK -- After their least-successful season in five years, the New York Rangers gave themselves a speed-focused makeover during the summer that was on display at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night.
Five of the 12 Rangers forwards in the lineup against the New York Islanders were new to the team, and just about all of them played a key role in a season-opening victory.
Center Brandon Pirri and left winger Michael Grabner scored goals, center Mika Zibanejad had two assists, and left winger Pavel Buchnevich delivered a beautiful pass on Chris Kreider's go-ahead goal midway through the third period as the Rangers staved off the late-charging Islanders for a 5-3 win.
The Rangers held a 2-0 lead on goals from Grabner and right winger Mats Zuccarello, but defenseman Nick Leddy and right winger Cal Clutterbuck knotted the score with quick goals off odd-man rushes during the first five minutes of the third period.
With the Rangers facing their first test of character in 2016-17, Kreider put the home team on top for good with a breakaway goal at 9:45 of the third. Pirri scored what would become the winner on a power play at 16:11.
After struggling with a lack of depth throughout last season, the Rangers employed four balanced, fast lines, and it made a difference when the game became tight early in the third period.
"There's no doubt, especially in the first two periods, our quickness, our speed, was a factor both defensively and offensively," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "The fact that we could roll four lines, that definitely helped us. (The Islanders) make it 2-2 -- we make a couple mistakes in our rush coverage -- but I like the way we responded."
The only new Rangers forward who failed to factor into the scoring was Jimmy Vesey, who had zero shots in 13:02 of ice time in his first game after signing as a free agent in August.
Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was the familiar face doing his familiar thing. He made 25 saves on 28 shots, although his stat line was blemished late when center Brock Nelson scored a garbage-time goal in the final minutes with the game decided.
Lundqvist earned his 375th career victory, moving him into sole possession of 14th place on the all-time list.
"I was impressed; a lot of guys played with jump," Lundqvist said of his new teammates. "It was great to see the way we started off this season. I thought we played really well. We had a stretch in the third where we obviously just have to manage the puck a little bit better with odd-man rushes. If we just clean that up, we are in good shape."
There were plenty of positives for the Islanders, who were outshot 39-28, but most of the damage came on the power play.
"We are playing a good team, and they've got some speed," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "Kreider got behind one of our guys on the game-winning goal. It's as simple as that.
"Even strength, it was a close game; shots were 25-25. They pounded pucks on the power play. There were 12 shots on the power play, and they got the big goal when they needed it. Eventually, when you shoot like that, you are going to score goals on the power play."
The Islanders had their share of new faces as well -- center John Tavares had new acquisitions left winger Andrew Ladd and right winger Jason Chimera on his line; they combined for zero points and were on the ice for two even-strength goals by the Rangers.
"We had some opportunities," Tavares said. "It was a good ice-breaker. We knew we need to be better and find different ways to get it done."
Left winger J.T. Miller scored the Rangers' fifth goal into an empty net to salt away the team's first win against the Islanders after losing all four meetings a year ago.
"It's awesome when things are going good," Pirri said. "Everybody is happy, and usually you are going to be in the lineup when you are winning. That's the most important part tonight, that we won, and I'm just looking forward to the next game."
NOTES: The Rangers opened their season at home for the first time since 2007. ... Three players -- Islanders LW Anthony Beauvillier, Rangers RW Pavel Buchnevich and Rangers LW Jimmy Vesey -- made their NHL debuts. ... Islanders C Alan Quine, C Matthew Barzal and G Jean-Francois Berube were healthy scratches. ... Isles LW Eric Boulton is out with a lower-body injury. ... Rangers D Kevin Klein (back) did not play. ... Rangers D Dylan McIlrath, who played 34 games last season, was a healthy scratch along with C Josh Jooris. ... Rangers C Oscar Lindberg is expected to miss a month while recovering from offseason hip surgery.