Game #43: Rangers waste good effort in excruciating 4-3 loss to Islanders

There are losses, and then there are LOSSES. I don’t feel like explaining myself. When you give the kind of effort the Rangers put into a third period they dominated, and still lose in excruciating fashion, it speaks volumes about where this franchise is. They suck. There isn’t much else to say.

I can’t explain the 4-3 loss to the Islanders, who managed to score on their only shot with 1:26 left in regulation. Of course they did. Henrik Lundqvist didn’t make a big save the entire night. Does he ever against his kryptonite? I don’t want to see him in net for the rematch on Saturday, or I’ll skip it. He stinks versus the Islanders. Make up any excuse you want. Psychological? Who cares.

I’m fed up with seeing our $8.5 million goalie give up goal after goal in losses to our number one rival. Would it kill him to make a save? Robin Lehner made countless saves throughout in outplaying Lundqvist for his eighth straight win. Seven. Eight. It doesn’t matter. The Rangers had the first 15 shots of the third period and they still lost due to Lundqvist. I don’t feel like blaming Marc Staal or Neal Pionk for this. The fifth straight defeat was due to our goalie. Even if it was a horrible game for Pionk with Staal not much better. The goalie gets all the credit when they win. Well, he deserves the blame for this one.

I am not gonna bother wasting anyone’s time with a long recap. Goals were scored. Three by the home team including Jesper Fast’s amazing baseball bat swing on a high Pionk shot that he batted in perfectly to tie the score. He was robbed by Lehner on the next shift. Lehner also stoned Pavel Buchnevich, and Mika Zibanejad on two other chances in the first of a home and home series that concludes Saturday afternoon in Brooklyn. Honestly, I’ve never seen Lehner look better. Whatever he’s doing, it’s working. The Isles are a playoff team for the time being.

I wish I could say some nice things about how most of the 18 Rangers skaters showed up for the rivalry game. It took longer for others than supporting cast members like Cody McLeod, who sucked AHL scrub Ross Johnston into a dumb unsportsmanlike penalty after Matt Martin tried to punk McLeod. Goon tactics by Barry Trotz’ club. Ryan Strome scored a power play goal on a great feed against the team that drafted him sixth overall in 2011. Strome played a good game centering mostly Filip Chytil and Jimmy Vesey until the third when David Quinn made a change. He moved Fast up with Pavel Buchnevich, who finally showed a pulse with some better shifts. Maybe getting knocked on his ass by Martin woke him up. He played with more edge even going back at Martin and saying something to him after another idiotic moment between him and McLeod at the Ranger bench.

I can take most losses. The Rangers got sloppy after Strome’s goal. Awful turnovers like the one Pionk made, which led directly to a Mathew Barzal breakaway goal on a napping Lundqvist. Then a bad penalty by Vesey on Anthony Beauvillier led to Jordan Eberle beating Lundqvist from an awful angle. The Islanders don’t have a good power play. That didn’t stop them from scoring on their first two. Typical of how brutal the Rangers penalty kill is. They stink.

The Rangers came back early to tie it in the second on a rare Kevin Shattenkirk goal. Only his second of the season on a pass across from Fredrik Claesson. Mats Zuccarello set a good screen in front to prevent Lehner from picking it up. Zuccarello is back to playing hockey. He was more effective than either Zibanejad or Chris Kreider, who didn’t do enough offensively. Zuccarello competed hard for a second game in a row. Maybe his admission to Larry Brooks was a good thing. He’s just playing now.

But a bad Staal penalty on Barzal resulted in another Isles power play goal. This time, Anders Lee redirected a good Nick Leddy point shot in for a 3-2 lead. That’s what happens when you’re bad.

At one point because they don’t shoot the puck enough, the Rangers had only 11 shots. They were stuck on three for a while against a more defensive minded Isles. They came in ranked fourth in team defense due to a better system under Trotz. If they make the playoffs, Trotz should get Coach of the Year over everyone else. They’re doing this without John Tavares, who scored two more including his 300th and 301st of his career in a Leafs 4-2 win over the Devils. Tavares has 29 goals for Toronto.

Whatever Quinn said to his team before the third, it worked. The Rangers were harder on the puck and attacked the Isles, who looked like they were trying to hold on. Every line contributed. Especially the Strome line. It was no coincidence that Fast scored his seventh while bumped up. They worked their tails off. McLeod was noticable every shift due to Martin acting like a punk. Buchnevich played hard enough on the fourth line for Quinn to move him up. The Brett Howden unit was around the puck a lot.

But when you outshoot your opponent 15-0 and then watch hopelessly as Cal Clutterbuck passes across for a Josh Bailey goal with Pionk right on him, it is extremely frustrating. Infuriating. I had no reaction. I expected it as soon as I saw Clutterbuck given too much respect by Staal. Pionk has to tie up Bailey there. He didn’t. Zuccarello missed a check in the neutral zone that allowed Clutterbuck to get in the Rangers zone. The rest is history.

This was as bad a loss as this team has had all season. It has a lot to do with the hated rival. But also how well they played the third. If only they had taken advantage of Leo Komarov’s boneheaded delay of game penalty that handed them a five-on-three. But Quinn blew it by sticking with the horrible top unit that produced nothing. He didn’t reward the guys who were going. A pivotal moment that was a huge miscalculation.

They lost because that’s what they do. So, it’s 5-11-5 since Thanksgiving. Five losses in a row with no end in sight. The Isles won because they know how to. Seven victories in the last eight and nine of the past 11. They have Lundqvist’s number. No. This isn’t Phil Collins or Genesis from 1987. It’s the one-sided rivalry.

One last act on Saturday.


3rd 🌟 Ryan Strome, Rangers (power play goal 5th as Ranger, best forward)

2nd 🌟 Robin Lehner, Isles (27 saves including 16 of 17 in a lopsided 3rd)

1st 🌟 Mathew Barzal, Isles (goal for 9th in last 11, 2 assists, beast mode)

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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