When you struggle to win games, it really gets hard. In the first Battle of New York of the season, the Rangers lost another tough one- this time to the blood rival Islanders 4-3 in a shootout at MSG on Thursday night.
They did earn a point for a second straight game but now find themselves with only one win in their first eight games (1-5-2). Meanwhile, the much improved Devils rallied last night to defeat Ottawa 5-4 in overtime to jump out to a 6-1-0 start. They lead the division with 12 points. Eight up on the Blueshirts who are still searching for answers. The only win coming agains equally as bad Montreal, who they see again in a week. The Canadiens are a East worst 1-5-1.
There are many striking similarities between the Original Six rivals. Both have established number one goalies who aren’t getting much support. Each is struggling to score goals and putrid defensively. They haven’t started well in games. Neither have any consistency or chemistry. Both are feeling the wrath of frustrated fan bases who expect better.
Unlike the Habs, the Rangers are showing signs of getting out of it. Even though they again dug themselves a early hole, they were able to mount a rally in the third period scoring twice to force overtime for a second consecutive game. So, they haven’t given up completely. It’s the lack of consistency and bad starts that’s costing them valuable points. To hear Kevin Shattenkirk tell it, they need to be more patient.
While the offensive defenseman has been bounced around the lineup by Alain Vigneault, he’s contributing. The New Rochelle native picked up a primary assist on David Desharnais’ goal that tied it at one in direct response to Anders Lee scoring on a early power play thanks to a bad penalty from Chris Kreider. It’s about the only thing he’s been doing daily. Not exactly what you expect from the key power forward who remains without a goal thus far.
Despite team struggles, Shattenkirk has found offense. He does it by finding room to get his accurate right shot through from the point. It was a quick wrist shot that a driving Desharnais was able to tip home past Islanders starter Jaro Halak. That gave him goals in two straight. Since being moved up to the second line with Kreider, he’s found chemistry with J.T. Miller. It’s Kreider who needs to join the party.
As for ShattDeuces, he’s up to seven points (2-5-7) which puts him in a three-way tie for first in team scoring with Miller and Mats Zuccarello. The former Blue who had a short stay with the Caps is tied for fifth amongst defensemen in scoring. There’s no doubt what he can bring. He’ll score his goals and get his points. He’s even taken on a team leadership role getting involved the other night with Evgeni Malkin and Bryan Rust. He’s trying his best to help lead the team in the right direction.
A bad characteristic is this team’s penchant for giving up untimely goals. They continue to frequently fall asleep. The alarm didn’t sound until the third. They seem to not play with urgency until they get behind. Following Desharnais’ goal, the Ranger fans who actually showed up had exactly a minute to cheer before a sloppy defensive shift allowed Brock Nelson to beat Henrik Lundqvist with a perfect laser high to the stick side to give the Islanders back a one-goal lead.
The main culprits were Michael Grabner and Adam Cracknell. Both turned over the puck to Andrew Ladd allowing Nelson easy access in the slot for the Isles’ second goal of the first period. Cracknell slammed his stick. He didn’t see the ice in the third.
Neither team is good defensively. There were plenty of turnovers throughout. By night’s end, each side was credited with 17 giveaways. That included five more by Ryan McDonagh. He’s clearly going through the worst stretch of his career. A reliable top pair defenseman, the captain is fighting it. It could have to do with all the partners he’s had through eight games. He was used to playing with Dan Girardi. Believe it or not, he misses him. It still doesn’t explain the brain cramps. He’s too good for this to continue.
As a team, the Rangers have been guilty of way too many turnovers. It’s only been eight stinking games and they already have a league high 122 giveaways. Unlike Dolan’s MSG which now closes gates to the Blue Seats early and inexplicably shuts down concessions and doors, there’s room for improvement.
Outside of allowing a bad angle goal to gifted Isles rookie Mathew Barzal (1st of career) which made it 3-1 at 1:15 of the second, Lundqvist played well. He kept his team in it by making several outstanding saves (35 total). None better than thwarting Josh Bailey’s last second bid to win it with seconds to spare in regulation. Another breakdown that can’t happen. Thankfully, he saved the game to bail out Mats Zuccarello, Mika Zibanejad and a badly beaten Shattenkirk.
As usual, they had trouble beating Halak (38 saves). He always steps up in the head to head match-ups with Lundqvist. It might explain why he improved to 12-1 in the last 13 meetings. He was under siege in a third that saw a exhausted Isles try to hold on. They recently returned from a three game road trip in California. So the third was predictable.
The Rangers finally imposed their will. Using a quicker tempo, they furiously attacked the Islanders with speed and puck possession. They were more aggressive. Jimmy Vesey nailed Nelson with a hard hit from behind in the neutral zone. That caused a angry Ladd to challenge him. Eventually, Brendan Smith picked off a errant pass at the Islander blueline and broke in on Halak, throwing a puck off a Islander right to Zuccarello, who buried it to cut the deficit to 3-2 at 3:29.
Smith played his most assertive game of the season. After starting with partner Brady Skjei, he was moved up to McDonagh in the third. The old Wisconsin Badgers worked well together. Smith also had a apparent tying goal overturned due to the NHL replay determining that he kicked the puck in. It was a tough call because it didn’t look deliberate. But they concluded it was a distinct kicking motion. Smith kicked the puck with his left skate and attempted to get he stick shaft on it. But Halak was in the way resulting in the loose puck banking in off Smith’s right skate.
To their credit, the Rangers persevered until Kevin Hayes beat Halak with a backhand from a bad angle to tie the score with 5:54 left. Playing his best game so far with new linemates Vesey and Jesper Fast, Hayes went end to end. Holding onto the puck, he skated wide around the Isles D and threw a backhand that surprised Halak for his second of the year.
Overtime was dominated by the Rangers. They got the first four shots including a unlucky Rick Nash stealing a puck and having another breakaway only to get stoned by Halak. I’ve never seen a more jinxed player. No one gives better effort than Nash. He remains stuck on one goal entering tomorrow’s rare Saturday matinee against Nashville. At some point, his luck will change. It’s why I can’t stand tweets like this:
That defeatist mentality bothers me. Sure. I get frustrated. But it’s not over yet. They must get it turned around. The losses are piling up. It’s about the key players picking up their game. It would also help if Vigneault gave Pavel Buchnevich more shifts. He shouldn’t be receiving less than 10 minutes. He was partially responsible on the Nelson goal flying the zone. That’s the mindset of a offensive system which sometimes makes the players forget the defensive side. That must change.
A bench minor gave the Isles a four on three power play with 1:19 left. A player came on too early before Nash got to the bench. But the penalty killing unit of Hayes, McDonagh and Marc Staal did a great job.
The shootout is hit or miss. Zuccarello started it by scoring thanks to his five-hole shot going off Halak and in. But Jordan Eberle evened it off Lundqvist’s glove to end Round 1. After Halak stayed with Zibanejad, John Tavares walked in and beat Lundqvist with a wicked backhand upstairs that hit the back bar. It was a nice move and sweet finish. That forced Desharnais to try to even it. But he was stopped by Halak to send the Islanders to their third win (3-3-1).
I’m just gonna add one thing. Why not Buchnevich? He didn’t even get a shift in OT. He had a very active game even getting moved up a couple of shifts in the third. Nothing against Desharnais, who’s looked much better since being elevated. I didnt agree with him being their third shooter with a big extra point on the line.
I don’t get Vigneault sometimes. He’s a well spoken coach. But some of the decision making leaves a lot to be desired. He’s been a very successful coach winning over 600 games with Montreal, Vancouver and New York. He won over 300 with the Canucks and currently is 193-113-30 with the Rangers. The question at the moment is will he survive in Year 5. If it continues, probably not.
The onus is on the team to play better.