Trouba: We’re going through a little bit of a stretch here, a little adversity, Rangers drop fourth straight, Sorokin shuts them out in loss to Islanders

The big headline coming out of tonight’s game was what Jacob Trouba said following another loss. In what amounted to a fourth straight defeat, the Rangers were shutout 3-0 by Ilya Sorokin and the Islanders at UBS Arena.

Winless in their last four (0-2-2), they’re having some issues. As I’ve hinted at in previous posts, the lack of attention to details is a concern. For the most part, that wasn’t the problem in Wednesday night’s loss to their blood rival on TNT.

Instead, it was a lack of finish. If one thing is becoming clear early on, it’s that the Rangers don’t have as much scoring depth. The subtraction of key deadline additions Frank Vatrano, Andrew Copp and even Tyler Motte are being felt. Oh BTW. Motte has six points on Ottawa so far in an expanded top nine role.

With injuries to key third center Filip Chytil and brittle rookie (at least so far) Vitaly Kravtsov, the roster is already being impacted negatively due to the salary cap. With Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider going cold, most of the offense is dependant on Artemi Panarin. He can’t do it all. As good as he’s been thus far, it’s a lot to ask from him. Vincent Trocheck and Alexis Lafreniere also have cooled off despite that line continuing to generate offense.

Coupling matters, Lafreniere remains stuck on one goal and Kaapo Kakko on two despite the latter nearly breaking a scoreless tie in the first period with a great power move. Unfortunately, he couldn’t beat Sorokin, who recorded his 11th career shutout by stopping all 41 shots.

It seems both young players are getting chances nightly. But they’re not going in. That can’t continue. It’s vital for the kids to contribute for the Rangers to be successful. Copp and Vatrano aren’t coming through that door. At 3-3-2 through eight games, they’ve come back to earth.

Although coach Gerard Gallant was pleased with the effort indicating that they did get good looks, he wasn’t thrilled with how the power play performed. Despite getting three opportunities, they were too predictable against a strong Isles’ penalty killing unit.

They stifled Kreider by marking him and took away the Panarin pass across for the Zibanejad one-time option. Sorokin still made eight saves on the three power plays including a couple of key ones on Adam Fox and Trocheck. That was the last man-advantage when the Blueshirts trailed by two after Josh Bailey redirected an Adam Pelech feed.

A scoring play where neither Trouba or struggling partner K’Andre Miller bothered to take Bailey in front. The new captain was very candid in his assessment of where they are currently with a two-game road trip at Dallas and Arizona this weekend.

He told Mollie Walker of The NY Post, “We’re going through a little bit of a stretch here, a little adversity. We’re going to face it and work through it.”

Right now, I think most fans appreciate his honesty. Whether it’s turning over pucks, failing to capitalize on their scoring chances, or lapses in concentration such as the one where the top line all watched the Bailey goal that helped the Isles ice the game, they must be better. To a man, they would acknowledge that they can be a little harder in front of the net and tougher in their end.

Gallant didn’t say anything too pointed. But the one quote below to Walker really is on point about the lack of offense.

It speaks to needing more grit from the forwards. That includes a bottom six that currently is a mess without Chytil. Only Barclay Goodrow is a scoring threat. The rest must bring their lunch pail to each shift like Hartford recall Julien Gauthier did. He was up for Kravtsov, who is hurt again.

If that doesn’t change starting in Dallas on Saturday against a tough Stars team that doesn’t give up much and boasts their own promising young netminder in Jake Oettinger, then it doesn’t matter what the lineup is. For the second of a back-to-back, Gallant surprisingly went to Jaro Halak. Maybe he wanted to give him the nod against his former team where he had success. He wasn’t the problem.

Halak stopped 26 of 29 shots. None of the three goals were soft. Although giving up a pair to the hated Kyle Palmieri really irks me. I can’t stand him. He’s become a cheap player. For some reason, he seems to like playing Halak. He scored twice more on him including breaking a scoreless tie at 8:44 of the second. He would tack on by beating Halak off a clean face-off win to make it 3-0 with 4:38 left. One that went in and out so quick, they buzzed down to stop play and count the dagger.

Gallant also went with Libor Hajek for a second game in a row over Zac Jones. Both took warm-ups. But Jones was slotted as the extra skater. So, he sat for two consecutive games. Why? I don’t know. But it wouldn’t have mattered. The fact is we’re talking about the third pair. They’re not going to make up the difference.

With Gauthier filling in for Kravtsov on the third line that Goodrow anchors with Jimmy Vesey, that meant there were no major changes to the other lines. The problem is that third line could be a fourth line. What does that say exactly about the depth? Not much.

At least Ryan Reaves got some face time with the NHL On TNT where he did one of his pregame interviews with the panel minus the yutz Biz. Henrik Lundqvist filled in. It was nice to see him on national TV. Some of our fans are a bit ridiculous thinking he should only do games on MSG. The Rangers were on TNT. What’s the problem?

As Colin Stephenson of Newsday laid out, every line and D pairing remained the same. Substitute Gauthier for Kravtsov. A Gauthier who played well. He hustled like usual and of course had one of his traditional break ins where he does everything but score. He also drew a penalty. I like how he plays. But by now, he should’ve figured out how to score at this level. No wonder nobody wants him.

Maybe part of the issue is Gallant not making any tweaks. He sees nothing wrong. I can understand how he’d be happy with the exciting barn burner they had against the Avalanche. That was splendid hockey by both teams. But if your top six is slowing down, you might want to consider changing it up. Unless he flips Lafreniere and Kakko on the road, there’s not much he can do.

In a game the fancy stats favored his team who had 41 shots to the Isles’ 29 and out-attempted the Long Island hosts 72-54 while creating better quality chances, none of it mattered. But my CORSI. The thing is if you don’t score despite the edge in play and possession, it means jack bleep. You can take all the nerdy analytics and stick it you know where.

The Rangers win more face-offs and get more shots on net. But they’re not exactly getting any garbage goals. That’s where the need for grit is. Sammy Blais is on the fourth line with an assist and no goals. Ryan Reaves and Ryan Carpenter have no goals, but play small roles. Goodrow has two and can contribute. Vesey picked up an assist on the Fox goal Wednesday night. He has no goals either. And Gauthier just came up.

If you subtract the two goals from Chytil and pair from Goodrow, nobody else has scored in the bottom six. That puts too much emphasis on the top six. Right now, they’re not burying their chances.

When you combine how anemic the power play has looked during the losing streak, it means they’re not getting much done on special teams. An important area they excelled at in ’21-22. The top unit is too predictable. Opponents know what they’re gonna do. Key on Kreider and take away the cross-ice pass for Zibanejad. It’s stale. At least on the third five-on-four, we saw a different wrinkle.

You subtract two young players with skill and there’s not a whole lot of offensive punch. Even with the edge in play, they were unable to beat Sorokin, who is a good goalie. He can make the saves. When you are getting shutdown by James Reimer and Daniil Tarasov in losses, that’s problematic. Those are the games you have to win.

Maybe this is going to be a tougher year. We know some teams have improved. That means less pushovers. You can’t just assume they’re banking two points against the Devils, Flyers, Red Wings and Senators, whose offense is explosive despite losing Josh Norris for possibly the season. Ditto for the Sabres, who aren’t an easy opponent.

I would say the Caps, Panthers and Lightning aren’t as good. The Maple Leafs are unpredictable. The Hurricanes look like the best team so far followed by the surprising Bruins minus Brad Marchand and Charlie McAvoy. The Pens look good too even though they’ve come back to earth out in Northwestern Canada.

It’s more competitive top to bottom. However, there’s a lot of parity. Especially in the Metro Division. So, there’s no reason to panic. But I’m glad Trouba acknowledged the obvious. That they are going through a tough time. If they weren’t, they would’ve rolled both San Jose and Columbus.

Of the eight games, the best ones have been Game 1 versus the Lightning, and Game 7 versus the Avalanche. Those were complete efforts where they went toe to toe. Not to say they didn’t play well against the Islanders last night. They did. But there wasn’t enough bodies in front on Sorokin to bother him. He made the saves as you’d expect from an elite goalie.

The Islanders got their first two goals on breakdowns by creating havoc. The Rangers got lost in coverage. They have to play more like a five-man unit. You can’t have only some players pulling their weight.

If there was one thing I didn’t like, it was when Turk stuck the checking line out with the third pair for two shifts. On one, they gave up a scoring chance in transition where both Hajek and Schneider got blown up. What the heck were they doing out there down two with five minutes left? The same for the fourth line.

At that point against an experienced checking team who can protect leads, you have to roll three lines and your top four D. Even if they’re not all going. It didn’t make any sense.

Once Palmieri buried his second which nobody on the ice saw at least in stripes, they blew the horn and put time back on the clock. By that point, it didn’t matter. The game was over.

There were a lot of minuses. The top line and second pair all were on for two goals against. The second line stood around and watched on the first goal. This is what it is right now. A team that’s not on the same page. That includes warrior Ryan Lindgren, who took another bad reaction penalty to being pressured.

Maybe the result could’ve been better had Fox’s long one-timer from the point not drawn iron early in the third. I thought that was going in. To my frustration, it didn’t. Had it, it ties the score. Maybe it plays out differently. That’s how it’s gone.

While he wasn’t too critical in the postgame, I imagine Gallant will have a message for his team as they hit the road this weekend for a second slate of back-to-backs. He knows they need to get greasy goals. Getting those puck bounces is all about better effort. That was a key characteristic of last year’s team. They need to find it and get back to their identity.

No three stars. There’s no point. When Gauthier is the most noticeable forward, that speaks volumes. It’s time for them to get into gear.

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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