The New York Rangers fell to the rival New York Islanders on Tuesday night, continuing an eight-game trend of swapping wins and losses with their opponents. The Rangers failed to score on six power-plays, while surrendering a power-play goal to the Islanders. Overall, the Rangers had little urgency. That must change.
Losing to the Islanders is not normally reason to panic, but when the Islanders have 10 wins in the month of December, there is reason for concern. The Rangers fell to the Islanders 4-2 on Tuesday, falling down early 2-0 and failing to complete a comeback. Every time the Rangers inched closer, they let the Islanders slip further away.
There are plenty of excuses for why the Rangers lost. One could claim it was Pavel Buchnevich and Mika Zibanejad missing from the lineup, followed by the injuries to Rick Nash and Matt Puempel. An argument could be made for the poor ice conditions causing the Rangers to flip and flop all over the ice. Perhaps, a look can be taken at how the Rangers out-possessed the Islanders in the game. Call it a bad luck loss.
Calling it a bad luck loss would be looking at the game in black and white, however. Context included, the Rangers failed to show up in a winnable game. Starting with the first goal, Brady Skjei perfected his screen in front of the goalie for a goal. The problem was, Skjei was screening his own goalie, and the Islanders scored the goal. 1-0 Islanders.
Following an impressive yet failed power-play, the Rangers found themselves battling an Islanders 2 on 1, as Brock Nelson was sprung out of the penalty box. Jimmy Vesey glided to back-check Nelson, but failed to reach him in time. Nelson’s shot deflected into the net for another Islanders goal. Had Vesey hustled to Nelson, the Islanders forward would not have had a clean shot on net.
Vesey made up for his mistake after a beastly cut to the net by Rick Nash resulted in an open rebound, but the one goal deficit was soon increased. Vesey struggled to handle a fine Kevin Klein pass, handing the Islanders the puck. What ensued was Henrik Lundqvist playing defense, Kevin Klein playing goalie, and Andrew Ladd shooting the puck into a wide open net.
The lack of communication between Lundqvist and his defensemen has been a major issue this season. The lack of trust points towards further problems, yet on a nightly basis Lundqvist shoots daggers at his defensemen. Lundqvist was equally at fault as Klein on the third goal, if not more at fault. Lazy and sloppy play all around handed the Islanders a 3-1 lead.
After a beautiful passing play by Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller, and Marc Staal brought the Rangers back to a one goal deficit, the visitors choked away another opportunity. John Tavares was left wide open on a power-play, and Marc Staal performed a screen on Lundqvist. 4-2 Islanders.
With a minute left and down two goals, the Rangers found themselves on another power-play. Rather than rifling the puck on net, the Rangers shared the puck like a hot potato, refusing to move it to the goal mouth. The Islanders handed the Rangers with another opportunity by taking another penalty, but the Rangers refused to take the present.
Down two and on a 5 on 3 power-play with 30 seconds left, the Rangers passed the puck around. And around. And around. The clock ticked down and the Rangers lost, having proven they could pass like no other team in hockey, but failing to come back against a weak Islanders team.
The story of the night was the lack of urgency. Be it Vesey’s lack of effort in back-checking, the defense’s inability to get out of Lundqvist’s way, or most importantly the power-plays refusal to shoot the puck in the dying seconds, the Rangers acted like the game was theirs to lose.
Perhaps the Rangers were right, as they lost the game. New York still boasts an impressive 17-9-1 record, but if the team learned anything from last season it’s that a strong beginning does not guarantee a strong ending. New York is struggling with various opportunities for improvement, yet improvement does not appear to be coming.
Lundqvist and the defense continue to lack communication, Alain Vigneault refuses to enter the right-handed power-play specialist Adam Clendening into the lineup, and the Rangers cannot hold the puck in the possession game. All of these factors result in the Rangers sleep-walking into their opponents traps for losses.