Game 74: NYI 3 NYR 2, Penalty kill haunts Rangers again in loss
March 23, 2017, 8:06 AM ET [390 Comments]
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The Rangers blew a 2-1 lead, falling the Islanders 3-2 on Wednesday. The defeat was the Blueshirts' second straight, but at least they get to go on the road, which is where they have had most of their success, for the next three. Following Wednesday's loss, it's now seven straight losses at MSG.
The Rangers lost to a more desperate team. After likely getting taken to task by coach Doug Weight in between the second and third periods, the Islanders came out with renewed purpose and an increased compete level and it showed. The Rangers failed to match that intensity in falling to the Islanders. You can argue the Islanders had to be more desperate, and I get that, but at home, against a divisional rival with a chance to deal a major blow to their playoff chances, you would expect better.
The penalty kill is a tire fire. Granted, the Islanders got some breaks, first off the double skate deflection and then on the game-winner when the shot seemed to hit Ryan McDonagh's hand, creating the scramble in front. But, the own zone coverage was poor, allowing those chances. In each instance, it wasn't a case where a forward was leaking out to get a short handed chance, as has been occurring lately, which is what coach Alain Vigneault said before the game. Thats what makes each goal even more disconcerting, because it reflects poor positioning and communication within your own zone while staying within the structure.
The Blueshirts, who yielded two goals in four shorthanded chances, have allowed nine goals on 22 disadvantages over the past seven games, and 10 on 27 over the past eight matches. Those numbers are staggeringly bad. The Rangers have dropped from around a top-10 penalty kill earlier in the year to the mid-20s and falling like a rock. If one area has to be cleaned up and quickly, this is it.
The power play wasn't great, as several missed opportunities. A great play by Mika Zibanejad to get the puck to Mats Zuccarello from his knees for the PPG in the second. But the other three man-advantages yielded nothing. The Rangers had a chance to grab a hold of this game and allowed the Islanders to stay in the contest. That was the case much of the first two frames. The Rangers pushed and pushed but had no finishing ability, as either Thomas Greiss stood on his head or they missed the net.
One player who has picked up his play is Rick Nash. Another power move, this one starting from the neutral zone, and then the skill to push the puck from skate to open space and stick followed by a hard drive to the net yielded the goal. Some interesting comments from Larry Brooks and a quote from Nash, who clearly realizes why he is in New York and what his role is.
Indeed, Nash regularly grimaces when complimented for his work on the defensive side of the puck or for having imposed his will against opposing defensemen for shifts at a time when the plaudits follow games in which he has been held off the sheet.
“Because that’s not good enough,” said Nash. “I take pride in my defensive game and in being a complete player, but I know why I’m here and that’s not it.”
“Getting to the inside,” is the mantra from No. 61 and the thing is, he getting to the inside, using spin moves against defenders, doing much of his best work with his back to the net much like a big man posting up in the blocks. But he hadn’t been finishing.
On the flip side, too many passengers again. Remember when New York scored goals by the bushel full the first quarter of the season? Well that was long ago and far away. Lately, it's been an absolute slog to tally markers, as even by the myriad of frittered away chances yesterday. Derek Stepan needs to get in shape and find his game, because he has not been good at all. If Mike Zibanejad, despite his fine play on the goal, wants a long term rather than bridge deal, he too needs to find the level he was at before he was injured. Tanner Glass dressed, possibly because Pavel Buchnevich was banged up after a collision with the boards the other day in practice. But that's speculation and without confirmation, so I am hoping it's true, or else sitting Buch, even though a more physical game was expected, made little sense. That move was exacerbated by Michael Grabner's continuing struggles - remember when he too was hot - and Jesper Fast miscast usage on the second line, leaving New York thin up front.
On the blue line, find me one defenseman who really didn't struggle last night? McDonagh was not particularly good again and neither was his pair mate, Marc Staal. Brady Skjei had a lousy game while Brendan Smith was either invisible or visible for the wrong reasons. I guess Nick Holden was meh, while Steven Kampfer got burned by Anthony Beauvillier shortly before Anders Lee tied the game 1-1. AV for some inexplicable reason benched Adam Clendening, even though he and Skjei was the team's best pairing the night before, resulting in Kampfer's inclusion in the lineup. Unless it was injury related, that move made no sense. But Dan Girardi will be back to cure all, maybe Kevin Klein too.
Eight games to get their stuff (insert other word as you see fit) together. Right now, New York isn't playing well enough to beat whoever they meet in the playoffs. Plus, the magic number is still seven with a three game Cali trip upcoming and a pair of home games still against Pittsburgh, so nothing is set in stone. I am not predicting a complete collapse but better play would be nice. I know they controlled action for much of the last two games, but that's offset by the errors made and issues I highlighted above.
Horace Greeley said Go West, Young Man. For the Rangers, maybe the coast will be the elixir they need.