Varlamov shuts the door again on Rangers in a defensive battle, Islanders win playoff caliber game


One mistake was all it took for the Rangers to lose a hard fought game to the Islanders. Unfortunately, they made a pair in the final part to get shutout 2-0 by Semyon Varlamov. He’s now posted two shutouts in two starts versus the Rangers.

It isn’t a bad loss by any stretch. The Rangers went toe to toe with the Islanders in a North/South grind it out, playoff caliber game. They worked extremely hard and stayed with the more experienced bitter nemesis, who don’t forget made the Conference Finals last year. Simply put, they didn’t get the job done. So, the mini win streak ends at two.

Truthfully, Igor Shestyorkin deserved better in this one. He played as well as he could by making tough stops throughout. The problem was he got no run support. The Blueshirts couldn’t cash in on either of their power play chances. Again, David Quinn over relying on the top unit. He throws all his eggs in one basket. It doesn’t leave the second unit enough time.

Neither team budged through 50 minutes. Although it did open up somewhat early in the third period when Varlamov denied both Artemi Panarin and the jinxed Mika Zibanejad on breakaways. The first one was a glove save on Panarin, who couldn’t believe it. The second was when he didn’t blink on Zibanejad’s fake and closed the five-hole up much to the slumping number one center’s chagrin. He can’t buy a goal.

Those two Varlamov stops were the biggest of the game. Eventually, he got some help from his fourth line. In these kind of games where there’s hardly any breathing room, it’s the grinders who usually decide it. With Cal Clutterbuck baring down on Libor Hajek, he made a big mistake by sending a backhand up the middle right to Adam Pelech. He took a low shot through traffic that Matt Martin got a piece of allowing Casey Cizikas to score in tight with under nine minutes remaining.

Just over two minutes later, they allowed Mat Barzal to start a quick transition to Clutterbuck, who outmaneuvered Adam Fox to set up Martin for a put away. He beat Anthony Bitetto to the front for the crushing goal that finished it off. The third line did a poor job on the back check which turned a nothing play into a key insurance marker for the Islanders. Noteworthy is that Bitetto was caught on with Fox, whose usual partner Ryan Lindgren wasn’t out for the shift. Lindgren played over 21 minutes.

Jacob Trouba took a late penalty to give the Isles their only power play with less than four minutes left in regulation. They didn’t have to do anything. They killed the two minutes off the clock, leaving the Rangers with 1:47 remaining. Not enough time to do much of anything given how this game was played. Right now, the playoff proven Isles are better at it than the Blueshirts. It’s a game they can learn from. They’ll have to.

With under a minute left, they called a tacky delay of game minor on Pelech, who couldn’t believe the call. The Islanders bench including coach Barry Trotz protested. It looked like the puck didn’t go straight out of play. Leave it to the MSG replay to not even bother showing a good look as to whether it was.

It didn’t matter. The Isles did what they had to do to win the game. And it was that cohesive fourth line that got it done. Coincidentally, the Rangers’ most effective lines were their third and fourth lines. They were good throughout and effective on the forecheck. Alexis Lafreniere had five hits and didn’t look intimidated. He even stripped Leo Komarov in the first to generate a scoring chance for Phil Di Giuseppe. He worked hard as did the fourth line that included Kevin Rooney, Brendan Lemieux and Julien Gauthier.

To Quinn’s credit, he rolled all four lines. Nobody played under 10 minutes. A rarity. It truly was a tight checking game where you knew whoever scored first would win. Unfortunately, it was the Islanders.

Kaapo Kakko received over 17 minutes while playing on the second line. He was thwarted by a sharp Varlamov pad save on a one-timer in the slot. He also made a good defensive play to break up an Isles’ opportunity. Even though the numbers aren’t there, he’s definitely improved overall. So far, Kakko is 2-1-3 having missed a game for COVID Protocol. If he keeps working, they’ll start to go in.

K’Andre Miller stood out in defeat on the blue line. He made a great defensive play to sweep the puck away from an attaching Barzal. It was also his outlet that trapped the Islanders which led to a one-on-one between Panarin and Varlamov. Miller is doing well. He recovers quickly and uses his reach to break up plays like the potential tap in for Brock Nelson that never made it.

Fox played another strong game. He made some subtle plays in his end to get out of trouble and join the rush. Although he did get caught out on the Martin goal, he was superb throughout while getting big minutes. His 24:59 paced the Rangers.

Both Russian netminders faced 30 shots each. Shestyorkin stopped 28 while counterpart Varlamov stopped all 30 to pick up his third shutout of the year.

Listening to the postgame, Chris Kreider felt that while they didn’t give up much, they didn’t do enough offensively to score. He said the team was good in spurts. Quinn reiterated that by indicating that they didn’t have many second chances. He also noted that they didn’t build any momentum off either power play.

The Rangers were better on face-offs. In fact, the second worst face-off team went 27-and-17 against one of the league’s best. Zibanejad won 11 of 13 while Ryan Strome won 11 of 15. That’s a big positive. They entered slightly over 41.0 percent. The Rangers worked on draws in practice. This is a nice improvement.

There really isn’t anything else to add. With Boston coming in for two on Wednesday and Friday, this is the exact style they have to play. The only difference is doing what it takes to get the ‘W.’

THREE STARS OF GAME

3rd ⭐ Matt Martin, Isles (2nd goal, plus 🍎, +2 in 16 shifts-10:30)

2nd ⭐ Igor Shestyorkin, Rangers (28 saves on 30 shots, another game he allows 2 or less)

1st ⭐ Semyon Varlamov, Isles (30 saves for 3rd shutout, 2nd vs NYR this season)

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.
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