Game #48: Costly mistakes hurt Rangers in 4-2 loss to Islanders without Panarin, hit All-Star break on sour note


You had to figure the Islanders would come with more urgency. Having dropped the first two meetings over the last week and then blowing a home game to the Caps while only getting a point in Carolina via a shootout, they needed the third match-up with the Rangers badly.

It didn’t matter that the shots wound up in favor of the Blueshirts by a wide 42-18 margin. They weren’t good enough to make it a clean sweep of the three matches over nine days. Instead, an opportunistic Islanders made the most of their chances by converting on a pair of power plays and got the bounces in a 4-2 win at Madison Square Garden.

Thomas Greiss made 40 saves and Josh Bailey had a goal and two assists as the Isles spoiled the Garden party. They also dashed any hopes of the playoffs. As I’ve echoed from the beginning, that was always unrealistic. However, had the Rangers not screwed up the end of the Columbus game along with some costly mistakes last night, they sure could’ve made it interesting.

The truth is this. Through 48 games, they’ve only had one three-game win streak. That was before Thanksgiving. There’s a reason they’re on the outside looking in with a 23-21-4 record and 50 points. As the legendary New York Giants coach Bill Parcells says, “You are what your record says you are.”

Save me the excuses on Artemi Panarin not playing for the first time all season. As valuable as he’s been, this was a winnable game. The wounds were self inflicted. The Rangers went from leading in shots 9-1 to being down by a pair rather quickly. It was depressing. After outplaying the Islanders at even strength, some undisciplined penalties proved fatal.

Ryan Strome took a needless hi-sticking minor on Brock Nelson in the offensive zone. As good as he’s been during the first half, he does have a tendency to take ill advised penalties. Sunday’s goat due to a very mistimed change that allowed Oliver Bjorkstrand to score the winner with 26.5 seconds left, Strome helplessly sat in the penalty box for a dumb infraction that killed his team’s momentum.

It was on a Jordan Eberle slashing minor a few minutes earlier that Greiss made some key saves with none bigger than getting a piece of a Pavel Buchnevich one-timer on a good set up from Chris Kreider. He got just enough to keep the puck out. Unlike the first two meetings, Isles coach Barry Trotz went to Greiss over Semyon Varlamov, who the Blueshirts had their way with. Always a Ranger killer, Greiss again did it by stopping the first 29 shots including 14 in a busy first period. He improved to 5-0-1 versus the Rangers in six starts and eight appearances.

Even though the first Ranger power play created chances without Panarin, who sat out with an upper body injury that will keep him out of the All-Star Game, they didn’t capitalize. Instead, they had some bad luck when Islander rookie defenseman Noah Dobson had his shot redirected by Bailey off Alexandar Georgiev and then take a funny hop off Ryan Lindgren before deflecting off Georgiev and in. The goal came with 6:25 remaining in the first.

Georgiev was making his third straight start against the Isles. How could you go with anyone else? The way he’d stopped the puck for his career vs them, it was easy to ride the hot hand. Trotz basically played the same game finally by going to Greiss. Even though he only made 14 saves on 18 shots, Georgiev was largely blameless. He had two goals against go off Lindgren and another came off a Brady Skjei misplay that resulted in a tap in for Brock Nelson a few minutes into the third that wound up proving vital.

Sometimes, these games are anti stats. What I mean is if you didn’t watch and just looked at the total shots which were 24 in favor of the Rangers with the beloved attempts one sided by a ridiculous 71-40 margin, none of it mattered. You can take your beloved Corsica, charts and graphs and burn them Freddy Krueger style. He would’ve laughed at these nerds. How I miss Wes Craven. What a genius. I liked Shocker too. How good was Mitch Peleggi as Horace Pinker? A very underrated flick with my bit of crazy in it.

If everything was predictable as these birds would tell their blind followers, life would be pretty boring. It sure applies in sports. I just watched the epic conclusion to a five set men’s second round Australian Open match won by a weary American Tommy Paul over Gregor Dimitrov in a super tiebreaker. He was trailing 4-5 and Dimitrov led 30-0 only two points from elimination. The gritty and younger 22-year old showed so much heart by taking the next four points and eventually the match to reach the third round for the first time in a grand slam. What a good young talent.

Gee. I wonder what the expected winning percentage was when he was looking like burnt toast two points from defeat. I don’t think Paul cared what the odds were against him. He took the match from Dimitrov, who also gave it away and pretty much tapped out in the 10 point tiebreak.

That’s the thing. Anyone would think the Rangers won easily last night. Instead, it was a game they never led in and once trailed by four before a last ditch effort that came up short. They nearly rallied due to idiocy from Scott Mayfield.

Despite having no Panarin, they didn’t play badly by any stretch. They outshot the Isles in every period. The difference was special teams and face-offs. An area statistical bloggers ignore despite it being an important stat when it comes to puck possession. So do zone starts. But you never hear anything about that. Just some stupid charts that no normal hockey fan or player gives a hoot about.

Analytics are a lie. They are everywhere including the dopey Baseball Hall of Fame. As huge a Derek Jeter fan as I am, and I’m very happy he’s going into Cooperstown, these writers are complete hypocrites. I was a fan of Larry Walker, but he was the Hall of Very Good. The same as Craig Biggio. Neither would be in if these cynics, who made money off PED users Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, were consistent. Both belong in along with Albert Belle, Don Mattingly and Jeff Kent. That’s my baseball rant for the blog.

David Quinn went with these lines for Tuesday night without the Wonder Bread Man:

Kreider-Zibanejad-Lemieux

Fast-Strome-Buchnevich

Howden-Chytil-Kakko

Haley-McKegg-Smith

The D pairs remained what they always are. Skjei and Jacob Trouba. Marc Staal and Tony DeAngelo. Lindgren with Adam Fox. Georgiev in net with the $8.5 million 👑 backing up. Igor Shestyorkin was up in the press box. He would later be sent down to Hartford despite another blog jumping the gun. That’s the thing about blogging. At least wait and make sure to get it right. We’ve all done it. Shestyorkin is an AHL All-Star. I would love for him to get that unique experience. He deserves it. He will get more work in Hartford during the preposterous week long break. It’s ridiculous. The Rangers don’t play again until January 31 against the Red Wings.

It would be easy to point out the obvious. No Panarin. No chance. In the games he doesn’t record a point, their record is 1-9-1. In Game 48, they played without him. It wasn’t like the Isles dominated. They didn’t. However, they cashed in their chances. Two power play goals from Bailey and Ranger killer Anthony Beauvillier (9th vs NYR). An Anders Lee tally that banked in off Lindgren, who did his best Skjei impersonation. I’m surprised that didn’t merit a 🌟. Plus an easy Nelson put away from Bailey, who was the Isles’ best forward. He had three points.

Following the Bailey power play goal off Lindgren, Skjei hooked Beauvillier 3:01 after the idiotic Strome penalty. So, that gave the Long Island rivals back-to-back power plays. This time, the attacking Ranger penalty kill went for it. Having scored eight shorthanded goals this year, why not? The Islanders power play had struggled coming in. Strome tried to atone for his bad penalty by rushing up ice with Trouba. They nearly connected down low, but a sliding Greiss denied the Strome bid for Trouba.

As usually happens when you take that kind of chance, it causes an immediate transition in the opposite direction. Like a bunch of killer bees, the Isles countered quickly to create a chaotic odd man rush. Bailey fed Mat Barzal, who circled around with the Rangers penalty killers scrambling back. He made the right play by finding Beauvillier wide open in the slot. The trailer then moved in and snapped a laser past Georgiev high glove right inside the goalpost for a 2-0 Islanders lead at 16:35. A well executed play that put the Rangers in double trouble.

The second period was almost exclusively played at five-on-five. Only a very foolish boarding penalty on Isles tough guy Ross Johnston, who leveled Lindgren from behind, sent the Blueshirts to their second power play. On it, nothing of consequence happened. It was lethargic and passive. At one point, you had Mika Zibanejad with the puck in the circle with a great opportunity to shoot on Greiss. Instead, he tried a low percentage pass that was intercepted and cleared down the ice by the Isles kill. Mind numbing. What was he waiting for? Panarin to magically come out of the sky in a Superman cape.

Not long after the successful penalty kill of Johnston’s mindless action on Lindgren, who’s becoming a target due to the big open ice hits he makes, Jordan Eberle and Barzal combined to set up Lee. On the play, all five Rangers were back. This was a simple case of Lee having enough room to fire a wrist shot that deflected right off Lindgren’s shin and in for a 3-0 Isles lead at 9:52 of the second.

It looked like it was over. The Rangers hadn’t shown much in the first part of that period. However, they picked it up after falling behind by three. The whole second half was played almost all in the Islander zone. They forechecked and created good opportunities on Greiss, who stood tall. In a period his team was outshot 15-5, he stopped everything that was thrown at him. Even if the Trotz Islanders do a good job limiting the shots to the outside, they leaned on their netminder to maintain a three goal lead.

It nearly became two. Strome thought he had one with under two minutes left. On some good work down low with Fast and Buchnevich, who I felt played well, the former Islander center circled around the net and put in a rebound past Greiss upstairs. It felt like it was 3-1 and a game again. The crowd was finally awake after having nothing to get up for. Kinda like Freddy’s Nightmares.

But the MSG cameras zoomed in on Trotz discussing the play with the officials. It was obvious they were going to challenge. But it wasn’t for goaltender interference. Rather offsides. One of those challenges I hate. I knew by how quickly they challenged, they must’ve had indisputable evidence. Why risk a power play if you lose? You’re still up two likely going to the third.

Sure enough, they made a fast decision to overturn the goal due to Fast not being able to keep his skate on the ice at the blueline. It was one of those tacky rulings that had no effect on the play. But that’s what the rule is for. Fast couldn’t get his skate down due to it accidentally touching an Islander. It stunk. But that’s how the game was going. They made the correct call.

Before anyone could still get their hopes up for a third period comeback due to how mediocre the Islanders had played, a Skjei mistake early on put the disengage button on. He went for a steal to start a rush, but over skated the puck. Instead, Ryan Pulock’s pass for Bailey down low created a problem. He faked shot and then made a smooth pass for a Nelson tap in at 3:13. The overlooked Isles second line center had just enough space to get free of Strome and put in his team-leading 20th from Bailey and Pulock. He’s really earned his new contract to prove me wrong. A better bargain than Kevin Hayes.

There really wasn’t a whole lot going on during the first half of the third that told you it could get interesting. The Isles were comfortably in front by four doing what they had to do. Quinn finally mixed up his lines. Kaapo Kakko finally found himself with Zibanejad and first-time NHL All-Star Chris Kreider. He was announced as the team’s replacement for Panarin after the game. I guess they didn’t want to mess up Zibanejad’s vacation. I am happy and excited for Kreider, who continues to play well. He would record his 11th goal and 18th point over the last 19 games since Dec. 8.

I thought Kakko was much more noticeable once he was bumped up. He saw some shifts late in the second. Without Panarin, this was the game to do it. He had one strong shot that Greiss stopped and then covered the rebound before Kreider could bury it. It was a close call. Hopefully, the break will do Kakko some good. He’s going home to Finland to be with family and friends. I think that can help. Maybe the time off will allow him to come back stronger. The rest of the season is really about his progression.

It wasn’t until a stoppage with 7:21 remaining that Mayfield got goaded by Brendan Lemieux into a foolish spearing penalty. Lemieux was doing what he does best. Talking trash I’m sure. Mayfield gave him a chop and he went down like he was shot. Believe it or not, they assessed a double minor to Mayfield for a call they rarely make. Yet boarding someone from behind is only two minutes. Some league.

Even if I thought the Rangers caught a break, they still had to score on the first half of the four minute power play. Sure enough, Fox skated to the middle and took a smart wrist shot that Buchnevich was able to redirect through a Kreider screen to end Greiss’s shutout bid with 6:15 left. Zibanejad got a secondary helper on the simple play. Simple is better. They need to remember that.

Now came the second half. This is where Quinn took a big risk by pulling Georgiev for a six-on-four still trailing by three. I’m not a fan of this strategy. Too often, we see it lead to a shorthanded goal into an open net to finish off games. Patrick Roy started this dumb trend. Every coach does it. More often than not, it backfires. I would love to know the percentages.

The only reason Quinn’s risk worked was due to the Isles inability to hit an empty net. They missed it like five times. It was insane. Eventually, a Zibanejad point shot never made it to Greiss. Instead, it hit Casey Cizikas and then Kreider picked up the loose change and buried his 17th to make things interesting. Suddenly, it was 4-2 with still 4:28 left in regulation.

Even crazier, the Islanders let Kreider get a step on an outlet. He was flying down the left wing, but when he went to shoot the puck from the circle, his stick failed him. Who knows what happens if his twig didn’t break. He might’ve scored. I’ve seen him make that shot enough. We’ll never know.

With over three minutes remaining, Quinn had Georgiev on the bench for a six-on-five following an Islander icing. A funny thing happened. With the Isles in delay mode, Trotz tried to pull a fast one on the refs. You must have the same players on for the defensive face-off. They went over to the bench and checked it out. Sure enough, the Isles got nabbed for a delay of game. Matt Martin served the unnecessary penalty.

Were they trying to give the game away? It was strange. The issue the Rangers ran into on the six-on-four was they couldn’t set up quick enough for shots. The Islanders were very disciplined on that penalty kill. They wouldn’t allow any dangerous shots to get through. I felt the two-man advantage was too predictable. You’re still down two goals. Move the puck quicker and get shots through with traffic. They were too deliberate.

Once the penalty was killed, the Islanders had a few more cracks at the empty netter. Only it never came. Mayfield flat out missed from his own end while still on the penalty kill. Then, you had Tony DeAngelo playing goalie by blocking one shot on his knees and then another. It was insane. The crowd that was left over cheered the effort. Filip Chytil also made a great backcheck to prevent a goal prior.

It was honestly unbelievable that the Islanders couldn’t score on an open net. They might want to practice that. I legit laughed while watching the wacky ending at my friend Jonathan’s. We both admired the effort from our team. They never quit. That showed me something.

If you’re looking for a depressing blog or aggravation, you’re in the wrong space. I love what I saw at the end. Some hustle. If only they had played with the same urgency earlier. Not that they were bad. But weren’t good enough to win.

There were three statistics that mattered.

Islanders 4

Rangers 2

Power Play: Isles 2/2

Rangers 2/5

Face-offs:

Islanders 35

Rangers 19

That’s why they lost this game. Not due to the total shots or attempts. And definitely not the beloved Corsi and Fenwick. Until this team improves on draws, they’ll never be able to compete seriously. Only Zibanejad and Strome are reliable enough to take the bulk of the key draws.

That’s gonna do it. No highlights. No stars. They’re self explanatory. Not one Blueshirt deserves a 🌟 anyway. It’s Greiss, Bailey and Nelson. Oh. And good on Trotz for benching Barzal. If he can do that to Barzal, Quinn can to Strome. I am a fan of his, but his last two games weren’t good enough.

It’s break time. Anything I put up will not be over the top. Stay tuned.

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 New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
This entry was posted in NYRangers and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.