Despite comeback, Rangers suffer a crushing loss to enemy Islanders in overtime, Chytil turnover leads to Pulock winner, Kravtsov records first NHL point

In the first of many match-ups between Russian comrades, Igor Shestyorkin lost to Ilya Sorokin in a frustrating 3-2 overtime loss to the Islanders. It wasn’t his fault. The blame falls on the veteran leadership of the Rangers, who couldn’t take advantage of a great opportunity to gain valuable ground. AP Photo by New York Rangers via Getty Images

In an epic battle between heated rivals at Nassau Coliseum, the extra point went to the enemy Islanders on Ryan Pulock’s goal that defeated the Rangers 3-2. It was a crushing loss. This was a golden opportunity to sweep the Islanders and gain even more ground with the Bruins getting humiliated at home by the Capitals 8-1. Instead, the Rangers only earned one point to remain four out of fourth place in the East Division.

So, they screwed up just enough to blow a valuable point when both the Flyers and Bruins lost in regulation. That final playoff spot is there for the taking. It doesn’t seem like either Boston or Philly want it. All the Rangers have to do is put together a good stretch and they could squeak in. One-goal losses like tonight hurt. Especially when they put themselves in position to win.

With the Bruins acquiring Taylor Hall from the Sabres to bolster their offense, the Rangers have 15 games left to beat out Boston, who even with Hall and adding defenseman Mike Reilly, don’t impress me much. Neither do the Jekyll and Hyde Flyers, who gave up three straight goals in a brief span to lose to Buffalo. Even as a skeptic, I think our team can make the playoffs. That’s how mediocre the teams they’re competing with are. Whether they do or not remains to be seen.

They played the Islanders toe to toe and could’ve won the Battle Of New York rematch in Long Island. In truth, the Rangers took the Isles’ best shot in a lopsided first period and were still standing. In what he admitted was a very hard decision, coach David Quinn went with starting goalie Igor Shestyorkin after Alex Georgiev again won the other day over the Islanders. There was no wrong choice. He could’ve rolled with the hot hand. Instead, Quinn supplied New York hockey fans with the first of many match-ups between Russian comrades Shestyorkin and Ilya Sorokin. The battle of former KHL stars didn’t disappoint.

In another interesting subplot, Islanders coach Barry Trotz reinserted Oliver Wahlstrom after he sat out two consecutive games. That meant the first head to head battle between 2018 first round picks Wahlstrom and Vitaly Kravtsov. Don’t forget it was the Rangers who chose Kravtsov at number nine over Wahlstrom, who the Islanders were happy to take at number 11. Both had good games. But it was Kravtsov who finally was rewarded for his hard work by recording his first NHL point. He was also moved up by Quinn to the struggling first line. That paid off immediately. More on that in a bit.

On the eve of Monday’s NHL Trade Deadline, the blood rivals met for the fifth time in eight meetings. Following a convincing 4-1 win on Friday in which they dictated the terms, the Rangers had to play more in the trenches against a more physical Islanders. This one had a lot of battles and some edge. Colin Blackwell didn’t mind laughing at the expense of taller Isles defenseman Scott Mayfield during a scrum. He is that player on our side that gets underneath the skin of opponents. It’s why I’ll continue to suggest keeping him.

If they do make a move by the 3 PM deadline later today, it’ll likely be minor due to the situation. This isn’t a Win Now team nor is it a Sell At All Costs one. Maybe a Julien Gauthier gets rerouted since he’s become the odd man out. I’m not even sure Brendan Smith will go anywhere. However, if I were a contending team, I’d be interested due to what he brings. It won’t cost a lot. Smith had himself a good night along with partner Libor Hajek. Believe it or not, that third pair scored both the Rangers goals. They deserved it.

As for what took place in the old barn, it was disappointing on so many levels. The first line had a miserable game. They were so bad during a one-sided first period that saw the Islanders outscore them 2-0 while leading 17-8 in shots, that Quinn had seen enough.

In particular, Chris Kreider was the culprit by taking a bad delay of game minor penalty that led directly to a Kyle Palmieri power play goal less than two minutes in. Palmieri’s first as an Islander in his third game only took 23 seconds to score on the Kreider gift. He was able to beat Adam Fox to a Brock Nelson rebound and bury it home for his ninth at 1:47. Josh Bailey helped set it up to pick up an assist.

For most of the period, it was the Islanders carrying the play with their forecheck. They won puck battles and controlled the boards unlike the game on Friday. When they play that heavy game, it’s to their advantage. The Rangers are better at using their team speed and skill to make plays. The faster the tempo, the better. This one had hitting with the Isles leading in hits 27-21. Their Identity Line of Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck were effective. So too was the newly formed third line featuring Palmieri with Wahlstrom and Jean-Gabriel Pageau. Not coincidentally, they would factor in on a big goal to close the first.

With the Isles also trying out Mat Barzal on the left wing with former Devil Travis Zajac taking face-offs, Jordan Eberle was on his usual right side. The new combinations Trotz used worked. He kept Bailey with Nelson and Anthony Beauvillier, who was dangerous late in regulation. At least they kept the pesky water bug off the score sheet.

What it all meant was the Islanders peppered Shestyorkin in a busy first period. He had to make a lot of good saves with traffic. There was a superb glove stop in which he got it up in time to get most of a high labeled shot from staying out. There was a rebound, but it was kept out. He also had to contend with Wahlstrom, who loves to shoot the puck. He got three good shots off that Shestyorkin denied. Velocity isn’t a problem for Wahlstrom, who plays more of a power forward style than Kravtsov, who had another strong game.

Speaking of Wahlstrom, he took a bad penalty when he cut down Blackwell from behind. Unfortunately, the Rangers power play was in royal suckage mode. The all too predictable first unit didn’t establish enough to test Sorokin, who was making his second start versus the Blueshirts since they lit him up in the second game of the season. He stopped all eight shots he saw in a low pressure first. It must’ve been enjoyable to watch counterpart Shestyorkin have to work way harder for his 15 saves.

Aside from how ineffective Kreider, Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich were, neither Ryan Strome or Artemi Panarin had a good night. Strome has become too predictable with his penchant for over passing while Panarin doesn’t shoot the puck enough. They’re very good together, but someone please explain to me how Panarin wound up with zero shots? Strome had two and neither were memorable. Both need to be more selfish. Strome is left open a lot because opponents know what he’ll do. That needs to change.

With the exception of Kravtsov, who started with Kevin Rooney and Brett Howden, along with the Kid Line that had Filip Chytil, Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere together, there were too many passengers in the first 20 minutes. That included Fox and partner Ryan Lindgren, who weren’t as sharp as they usually are. When that happens, it’s usually trouble.

It looked like they were going to escape down a single goal thanks to Shestyorkin. But a bad line change from Kreider allowed the Islanders top line to coast up ice thanks to a flying Barzal, who quickly got the puck over to Eberle. With the trailer Pageau coming on, Eberle passed across for a wide open Pageau one-timer that beat Shestyorkin with 7.6 seconds left in the period. In a word, brutal. The defense backed up. It was the K’Andre Miller/Jacob Trouba pair. They got no puck support from the second line. A miserable way to end a nightmarish period.

Unhappy with his top two lines, Quinn wised up and started the third line for the opening face-off of the second. The chemistry between Lafreniere and Kakko is undeniable. They play well off each other. It’s also boosted Chytil’s play. Even though he can’t win face-offs, he’s a good offensive player. If you stick him with talented youngsters who possesses the skill of Kakko and Lafreniere, it works. Lafreniere took four face-offs and won three. Keep an eye on that.

Occasionally, Kravtsov got mixed in place of Kakko following a power failure. They actually had chances with Martin in the box. But again couldn’t finish. Panarin tried a touch pass for a Strome deflection that Sorokin calmly covered up. Zibanejad messed up his one-timer.

As for Kravtsov, he was creating scoring chances for linemates and himself with good overall play. Eventually, Quinn bumped him up to the struggling first line. He came close to earning his first point when he all but setup Buchnevich in front, only to see Buchnevich shoot the puck into the goalpost. The net was wide open. It was frustrating. The encouraging part was Quinn really liked what he saw.

So, Kravtsov stayed up on that line while Kreider worked with Howden and Rooney. He definitely responded by being more active. That included a vicious hit near the boards that made the Islanders crowd moan. Kreider led the Rangers with six hits. He needs to do that. Maybe the wake up call will spark him. Of course, the demotion didn’t change his power play minutes. Quinn just isn’t willing to reward the kids who are outplaying the vets. That includes Zibanejad, who is back to being in first half mode.

While Kravtsov stayed up, Blackwell was used on the second line and sometimes the fourth. He always plays the game honestly. That’s why fans have taken to him. It isn’t just the surprising production with the 12 goals. It’s how he hustles and puts himself in good spots. He’s also versatile enough to take draws and penalty kill. He plays second power play because he’s earned it. That’s where three of his dozen goals have come. This gritty player finishes checks and goes to the hard areas without any issue. No wonder he challenged the much bigger Mayfield post whistle and talked trash. I sure hope he stays.

With the Rangers still trailing by two, it was that Kid Line that finally swung the momentum. On a hard forecheck from Lafreniere, Chytil and Kakko, the cohesive trio combined to set up Hajek for his second goal. He took a Kakko feed up top and took a wrist shot that took a favorable bounce off two Islanders right past Sorokin for a huge goal. Kakko and Chytil got the assists. It was nice to see Hajek get rewarded. He played a very good game with Smith.

Not even two minutes later, another strong play from Kravtsov led to Smith evening the score with his third. On a smart cycle, Kravtsov passed in front for Zibanejad, who had the puck carom off him right to a pinching Smith, who was only too happy to bury it at 12:16. It was Kravtsov’s first NHL point in his fifth game. That gave the Blueshirts two goals in 1:53 to tie the score. With the Bruins trailing on the scoreboard 6-0 to the Capitals, the Rangers had rallied back to put themselves in a winning position.

They really tilted the ice during the second. Maybe it didn’t show in shots which they led 10-6. But the attempts were way higher. The new lines Quinn used by adjusting worked. This time, it was Sorokin who had to come up with some tough stops. Outside of maybe one good shift by the Islanders fourth line late, they hardly did anything.

The game would hang in the balance during a tense third. Unlike the first two periods, it was played on more even terms. As expected, each side tightened up knowing the next goal would probably win. So, you got what you expected.

For the Blueshirts, they might regret not taking advantage of a second bad Martin tripping minor when he took down Smith. They certainly had a lot of puck possession on the power play. As usual, not enough shots found the target. It was very frustrating. Fox tried a wrist shot for a Kreider tip that didn’t work. He also attempted another one and Kreider couldn’t get his stick on it, making it an easy save for Sorokin. There also was the all too predictable Zibanejad one-timer right into the teeth of the Isles’ penalty kill that led to a clear. How about the Zibanejad wide shot where Sorokin was out of position completely? All he had to do was hit the net. Brutal.

Also of note, Trouba had the most shots on goal with five. Since when does that happen? If he’s leading the team in shots, that’s not a good sign. Not a criticism either. Only an observation. Panarin never registered one. Kreider only had one on net. Buchnevich and Zibanejad each had two, but screwed up quality chances. Kakko never hit the net either. Strome had two with his other five attempts not connecting. You’re not going to win most nights when your top players are shooting blanks.

A Fox hi-sticking minor on Clutterbuck handed the Islanders a power play. However, it was so slow moving and bad that they never got a single shot on Shestyorkin. The Rangers did a great job on the penalty kill. Especially Miller and Trouba, who had active sticks. The forwards didn’t allow much setup time either. In fact, Buchnevich came close to getting a shorthanded break. Too bad he didn’t. The puck wouldn’t concentrate. It was bad ice for both sides. You had a lot of pucks bounce on players.

The refs missed a Howden high stick that would’ve given the Islanders a late power play. Butch Goring certainly was bellyaching for it enough. But he happened to be right. It was a brutal miss. Not that I think they would’ve scored. Our penalty kill is very good.

Late in regulation, Wahlstrom attempted a difficult turnaround shot that Shestyorkin made a good pad save on to keep it out. The intensity picked up when during a Rangers forecheck, Mayfield and Buchnevich got into it behind the Islander net. I didn’t realize Mayfield was getting the original for roughing. Maybe Buchnevich shouldn’t have gone back at him to be taken off for hi-sticking. There was only 1:29 left when it occurred.

Getting one more power play could’ve made a difference. It also would’ve carried over to give them a four-on-three. Instead, overtime started with the awfulness that is three-on-three. Following a tentative shift from the trio of Zibanejad, Panarin and Fox, out came Strome, Chytil and Miller. I don’t know why, but I didn’t like it. I liked it even less when Strome allowed Barzal to get a head of steam and nearly set up Zajac for the winner. Only a sliding Shestyorkin denied him to freeze play.

Then, they stayed on for the defensive face-off. Why Chytil was still out I don’t know. He’s not a good defensive player. When he and Miller got mixed up behind the Ranger net, I had a bad feeling. Chytil came out with the puck along the boards. There was enough time to chip a backhand clear off the boards. Instead, he hesitated which allowed him to get trapped. Zajac easily took him off the puck. Then Barzal found a cutting Pulock for the overtime winner right by Shestyorkin at 1:13.

Photo credit to Brian via Getty Images

It was a brutal end to a frustrating game. Two points would’ve meant a lot. Instead, they settled for a lousy one to remain four behind the Bruins, who still have 17 games left including a whole bunch against the Sabres. The same rival they acquired Hall and Curtis Lazar from for Anders Bjork and a second round pick.

Boston did well in adding Hall and the gritty Lazar, who will help them. They gave up a third round pick to Ottawa for defenseman Mike Reilly, who should help their struggling blue line. They gave up eight goals in an 8-1 loss to the Caps. The Bruins have the Islanders twice this week while the Rangers get the Devils four times. This is the make or break week to get something done. We’ll have a better idea of things by next week.

There isn’t anything else to add to the one-goal loss to the bitter rival. It was another winnable game. One I feel they should’ve won. Too bad some of the best Rangers didn’t play up to standard. They gotta be better. And if they continue to look out of sorts, Quinn shouldn’t hesitate to use the kids more. They’re the ones busting their ass. Play the guys who deserve it. It’s sure to be a positive experience beneficial to their careers. The future is now.

Instead of a three stars, I’m gonna do something new.

Three Goats Of The Game

3rd Goat Ryan Strome, NYR (edges out Zibanejad, lost 7 of 13 draws, 2 SOG, -2 in 17:20, must shoot puck more)

2nd Goat Artemi Panarin, NYR (0 SOG, didn’t make a difference, -1 in 19:07)

1st Goat Chris Kreider, NYR (bad penalty and line change cost team two goals, in a funk)

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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