Signed in the offseason to replace Jaromir Jagr, Naslund scored a goal and Brandon Dubinsky added another in New York’s 2-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday, when the NHL opened its regular season in Europe for the second straight year.
“I didn’t replace Jaromir I don’t think anyone can,” Naslund said. “I ‘m just trying to find my game and playing to my potential.”
The sold-out crowd at the O2 Arena was quiet during the opening stages of the game, and many fans wore New York Rangers jerseys in a reminder that when they bought their tickets, Czech star Jagr was still in New York.
“It was a great atmosphere, the fans were really into it,” Naslund said. “It was fun.”
The longtime Vancouver Canucks captain agreed to a two-year deal worth $8 million in July after Jagr left New York as a free agent and signed with Omsk Avangard of the KHL in Russia.
Naslund scored with 1:52 remaining in the second period on a wrist shot after being fed by Scott Gomez.
“It was nice to have a win here,” Naslund said. “We controlled the game and we deserved to win.”
Dubinsky had the winner on a power play with 5:44 left in the game.
“We created a lot of scoring chances and certainly could score a couple more goals with the way we were playing,” Dubinsky said.
Lundqvist made 20 saves and Tampa Bay goalie Mike Smith had 39.
“We outshot them badly,” Naslund said. “We just gotta be careful with their offensive guys and not let them break. That’s why it’s great to have Henrik. It was a very tough game for him, facing not many shots but quite a few breakaways.”
It was the fifth time the NHL began its season outside North America, with the other three times coming in Japan in 1997, 1998 and 2000.
Rangers coach Tom Renney saw things to be improved despite the win.
“Early in the game, certainly in the first period and at the end of the third period as well, they seemed to be able to get little bit more than we should’ve given them, and honestly I think we gave it to them.
“In the second period we settled down and managed the puck much better. I like the fact that we kept generating shots and offense.”
Tampa Bay coach Barry Melrose said his players spent too much time in the penalty box to win.
“Seven penalties against a very good power play,” he said. “Our young defense played well, but if you give the Rangers seven power plays you’re going to get a goal.”
Melrose was positive about his team and said it just needed to score.
“It’s a very tough loss because we played so hard,” he said. “We did a lot of good things defensively. Our offensive players had the chances.”
Both teams’ stars, including captains Vincent Lecavalier of the Lightning and Chris Drury of the Rangers, missed a number of scoring chances in the opening period. Smith stopped 14 shots, while Lundqvist turned away eight.
The Rangers carried the action in the second period, outshooting the Lightning 16-3, but Smith stopped everything until Naslund’s shot.
Lundqvist, who led the NHL with 10 shutouts last season, denied St. Louis and Steven Stamkos when the Lightning were seeking an equalizer.
“I was much more relaxed during the game because I had a couple good saves early on,” Lundqvist said.