What followed after Adam Fox was presented the Steven McDonald Award was a total letdown. Or meltdown. Your choice. In what amounted to a clinic from a grittier and hungrier opponent, the Rangers were outclassed entirely by the bitter rival Islanders. They did whatever they wanted in a 4-0 shutout that was so uncompetitive, you half wondered if the guys wearing the Blueshirt stayed in the locker room.
There was no Extra Effort required. This was a stinker from start to finish. Without Chris Kreider (day-to-day) and Jacob Trouba, the Rangers were flat from the outset. How bad was it? NYPD Officer Conor McDonald showed more passion through a mask (Covid crap) when making another splendid speech about what the Steven McDonald Award means. If only there weren’t so many passengers in a humiliating performance that essentially ended the miniscule playoff hopes they had. PLAYOFFS?!?! Not in 2021. That better not be the case for next year. The excuses end.
What we got instead of an inspired effort was a vanilla game that just won’t cut it against the Islanders. Say what you want about them. They don’t have a great offense. They struggle against almost everyone else who are playoff bound. It doesn’t matter. The Islanders are the Rangers’ Daddies. That’s the bottom line. They play the physical North/South game that is successful once the playoffs begin.
Throw out whatever the shots were. Look more at the face-offs and hitting. The blocked shots. The checking. That’s where the Rangers struggle. It’s why they’ll miss a fourth straight postseason. Forget last year’s fake play in. You saw what happened against the Hurricanes. It wasn’t even a contest. The same thing happens when they face their Long Island nemesis in a big game. Dominated. Outscored 10-1 in nearly six periods since Matt Martin injured Trouba on a vicious hit.
They got exposed last Tuesday in a mind numbing 6-1 loss. This was worse. At least they had a chance entering the third period. Before that game got away, they had 10 good minutes and nearly cut the deficit to 3-2. Tonight was so bad, mad and sad that it bordered on absurd. Simply put, the best players didn’t show up.
Artemi Panarin was the worst one too. Did he even attempt a shot? He was blanketed and looked useless. Mika Zibanejad at least had three shots including the best one on a power play one-timer that Semyon Varlamov denied. Outside of that, it wasn’t good enough. Pavel Buchnevich? Forget it. Even Fox struggled. You know he gives the effort, but only has one assist in seven games versus the Islanders.
When asked during the postgame press conference about his team, David Quinn said there wasn’t much to like about their game. He had no answers. Zibanejad said, “They (Islanders) don’t give you much. … We weren’t quick enough and let them forecheck. ” He was correct. The decision making wasn’t crisp. Too often, they were two steps behind a team that doesn’t possess their explosive speed or skill. It was the Islanders who dictated the terms. They were superior. Every battle was won by the hated rival. The key face-offs. It resulted in an easy night for Varlamov, who recorded his third shutout of the season versus the Rangers. Ridiculous.
By the time Leo Komarov scored on an easy one-timer past Igor Shestyorkin off a horrible play where the Rangers stick checked including Kaapo Kakko, it was one and done. It was way too easy for their opponents, who do far better when leading. Instead of coming out flying following the nice pregame ceremony, they looked like mice. It was inexplicable.
Not only were they severely outplayed. But took a pair of undisciplined penalties that gave the Isles momentum. Panarin was one of the guilty parties early when he carelessly took down Noah Dobson less than three minutes in. It was lazy. That typified his night. You could make a case that was the worst game Panarin played as a Ranger.
Even though the Islanders got nothing on the power play, it created momentum. They tested Shestyorkin early. He wasn’t the issue. Anyone who thinks it would’ve been any different if Alex Georgiev played is completely lost. This was all about the 18 skaters with the top guns underwhelming.
On the Komarov goal, Nick Leddy was allowed to skate through multiple Rangers including Zibanejad and Kakko to easily access the zone. He left the puck for Jordan Eberle, who easily found Komarov for a good shot far side at 6:27. Of course, it was his first goal of the year. He hadn’t scored in over a year. A Ranger specialty. Both Brendan Smith and K’Andre Miller couldn’t prevent it. Smith got mixed up down low and Miller wasn’t able to prevent the pass. The start of a forgettable night.
With still nothing going on, Buchnevich took the second ill advised offensive zone penalty when he tripped up the annoying Mat Barzal. Of all the Islanders, I can’t stand him. I’ll withhold anymore on why. Handed a second man-advantage, this time the Islanders made it count. Back in the lineup for Travis Zajac, Oliver Wahlstrom took a Brock Nelson drop and skated around a slight pick to fire a shot that Shestyorkin had a hard time picking up due to Brett Howden and Ryan Lindgren accidentally screening him. It went short side for Wahlstrom’s first in a month. That two-goal edge felt like a lot more.
I can’t think of one good scoring chance the Blueshirts had in the first. Filip Chytil made a good strip of the puck and put a backhand on Varlamov. His line with Kakko and Vitaly Kravtsov was effective. Ditto for the fourth line which included Phil Di Giuseppe, who returned to the lineup to play with Kevin Rooney and Howden. That was the trouble. The top two lines struggled mightily. The only guy who really was noticeable was Alexis Lafreniere. He would set up a Zibanejad chance later on during a four-on-four that Varlamov stopped.
The battle level needed to pick up several notches. Instead, they let the Isles’ Identity Line take it to them on the first shift of the second period. On what can best be described as a disaster, Ryan Strome lost a defensive draw cleanly to Nelson. He won it back to Scott Mayfield, who had enough time and space to find a wide open Anthony Beauvillier for a 3-0 lead. The back breaking goal came only 63 seconds in. It was a brutal sequence.
When you have these Chartographology Statmastah nerds claiming face-offs don’t matter, they are clueless. Joe Micheletti was all over the team for how anemic they were on face-offs. It was ugly. Where do you think puck possession starts? What was most disturbing was how little the other four Rangers battled. It was too easy. Beauvillier is a known Ranger killer. That goal took the wind out of their sails.
Then Buchnevich got into it with Wahlstrom behind the net following a hit. Both went off for two each. That allowed for some four-on-four. With more open ice, the Rangers got the best chance. On a good rush behind the net by Lafreniere, he fed Zibanejad in the slot for a shot that Varlamov stopped. There really wasn’t anything else substantial that happened. The two minutes eventually expired and both players returned.
With not enough happening at even strength, the Islanders opened the door when Beauvillier hooked into Panarin halfway through the contest. The best opportunity came when Zibanejad got a good pass from Strome in the slot off the rush. But his one-timer was too low which allowed Varlamov to deny it. It had to be higher. MSG analyst Steve Valiquette noted that Zibanejad does most of his damage on one-timers. But he didn’t get low enough for the puck to be higher. That was a missed opportunity. If he connects there, you have almost half the game left to make up a two-goal deficit. There weren’t many primary chances. That was one.
The exasperating thing was the lack of forecheck. It was too much one and done. One of the most effective players was Kravtsov. Noticeable when they had any kind of pressure, he was in battling and got himself a chance. One-on-one with Varlamov, he took a low wrist shot from the circle that the Islanders goalie easily gloved. Of course, there was nobody in front. Why would there be? It was a point even Valiquette made during the second intermission. Chris Kreider can’t be the only net front presence on the roster. John Davidson and Jeff Gorton have a lot of answering to do this off-season.
The third was an eyesore. While Shestyorkin had to make a few tough saves, Varlamov could’ve had a lounge chair, put on some shades and had a cocktail. He only faced two shots in the first nine-plus minutes. The shots were 6-2. It really spoke to how fully in control the Islanders were. Not even some interesting line tweaks from Quinn worked. He finally bumped up Kravtsov to the second line with Panarin and Strome. Panarin did nothing. It was not his night. You could say that for many Blueshirts.
As they continued to struggle with the Islanders’ defensive structure, Ryan Lindgren was hit hard by Cal Clutterbuck in the first few minutes of the period. He went down due to where he was struck. That part of the glass by the side near the bench that doesn’t give. Helped off by team trainer Jim Ramsay, that was the end of his night. It looked bad. I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t see Lindgren this weekend. It was that tough a check. When asked about his status, Quinn didn’t know. Trouba is close to returning. Whether he’s ready for Saturday’s rematch remains to be seen.
With under eight minutes left, Barzal hit Smith from behind for a boarding minor. Before the power play, the Rangers didn’t take too kindly to the cheap shot. Barzal takes a lot of dumb penalties. Usually, they involve stick infractions in the offensive zone. Not dirty hits like the one that angered the players. Lafreniere had some words with an Islander.
Instead of making Barzal pay for his foolishness, the top Rangers unit which had Buchnevich replacing Kreider, accomplished nothing. They stayed on for the full two minutes. With Shestyorkin off for an extra skater, it was six-on-four. Lafreniere came on. It didn’t matter. Once they killed the penalty, Mayfield got the puck over to Barzal, who easily fired it into an open net with 5:34 remaining.
Nothing else to see. It was a thorough beat down. Unfortunately, the Rangers got exposed. Whatever fans were there sounded like a morgue. That’s how lackluster it was. It was disappointing. I’ll be honest. As much as other fans looked forward to this game including my brother and father, I was more guarded. Maybe I knew better. They have teased us all season. Nothing changed. You can’t rely on beating the cupcakes. Eventually, you have to win versus the good teams.
Right now with five games remaining, they are what they are. A good team that’s incredibly flawed. Until that changes, it isn’t going to be much different. At some point, this group needs to learn the lesson on how to win. 4-15 in one-goal games including last week’s Flyers debacle. Five defeats to the Islanders. If they don’t win in less than two days, they’ll clinch at the Rangers’ expense. That would be fitting.
As discouraging a defeat as it was, the truth is they would’ve probably gone out in the first round. When your best players in an important game are youngsters like Kravtsov, Chytil, Lafreniere, Howden (especially him), Zac Jones, that doesn’t say a whole lot for the leadership. The one veteran who gave a good effort was Smith. Maybe he should win an award. He busts his ass every shift. Players Player.
The Rangers have five games left in their season. One against the Islanders. Two versus the Capitals. Two against the Bruins. Now is the time to find out about their younger players. If they don’t, then it’s a bit ridiculous. It’s all over.
GOATS OF GAME
3rd 🐐 Mika Zibanejad
2nd 🐐 Pavel Buchnevich
1st 🐐 Artemi Panarin