Islanders third period comeback shows how soft the Rangers are, Gallant makes excuses, players give up on winning goal due to missed call, Trocheck stands out


Alright. It’s time for a rant. I’m officially fed up with this team. As the best player Vincent Trocheck basically indicated in the postgame of a humiliating 4-3 loss in which the Rangers pissed a two-goal lead away to the Islanders in an abysmal third period, they’re clearly fighting it.

Fourteen games in, it’s very apparent that this isn’t even close to the same team from last season. They’re a fragile group who lack confidence to put together 60-minute efforts. It’s obvious that where things stand currently, the Rangers are playing too soft. That’s why their record is a mediocre 6-5-3.

Regardless of ref Kelly Sutherland blowing an obvious call on Oliver Wahlstrom which led directly to Islanders captain Anders Lee netting the game-winner with 5:30 left in regulation, this is bigger than pinning a brutal loss on the officials.

They played two good periods. Then, as Trocheck also said in the locker room, sat back a little too much. Facing a good third period opponent who just pulled out a game on Monday night by scoring three unanswered goals to beat Calgary in overtime, they let their guard down.

How else do you explain Trocheck warning of the lackadaisical finish to the second period, and then only 14 seconds into the third, Adam Pelech had cut it to 3-2 on a stoppable wrist shot Igor Shesterkin allowed? On the same play, Jacob Trouba lost a battle to Zach Parise by ducking a check that allowed the goal to happen.

S-O-F-T. That’s where the Rangers are. Nobody seems to be able to explain away these losses that are becoming too common. Every time he’s asked about their play, the new captain Trouba repeats the same standard line about how they must fight through it. At what point does a locker room leader call out the lack of consistency?

I’m also getting a little sick of the coach pretending that everything is okay. Gerard Gallant thought they played well and deserved to win the game. Did he watch the third period? He really sounded like a clown. The excuses are not going to fly. Call out the lackluster effort from some of the key players.

Both Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad were next to invisible playing together at five-on-five. While Panarin did chip in with assists on power play goals from Chris Kreider (more assertive) and Trocheck (his best game), he didn’t have any chemistry with Zibanejad, who looked out of sorts. I’d immediately break them up and put Panarin back with Trocheck.

The disappointing aspect is they wasted a 3-1 lead by letting the Islanders off the hook. The Long Island rival is more capable of scoring under new coach Lane Lambert. They proved it again on goals by Pelech, Brock Nelson and Lee to steal the two points. Grand larceny was committed at MSG. It was due to the home team with the blue liberty jerseys forgetting to finish the job.

After a slow start that saw a Jimmy Vesey tripping penalty in the offensive zone lead to Kyle Palmieri somehow beating Shesterkin on a rebound for an Isles power play goal, the Blueshirts did a lot well. They used their skating legs to generate better scoring chances against backup Semyon Varlamov.

The reconstructed third line finally connected to tie the game. On a dominant shift in which all five skaters were involved, Vitaly Kravtsov was robbed in front by Varlamov. A hustling Kreider kept the play alive for Adam Fox. He passed it to K’Andre Miller, who patiently skated in and then found an open Filip Chytil for a one-timer past Varlamov at 11:36.

The goal was the first one Varlamov allowed in 251:36 at MSG. During that dominant stretch, he made 112 consecutive saves. A ridiculous statistic for the veteran netminder.

After that tying goal, the third line again buzzed in the Islanders zone. Looking for more, they almost had it. Kreider passed for another Chytil shot. But this time, Varlamov made the stop. There definitely is chemistry between the trio of Kreider, Chytil and Kravtsov, who returned to the lineup after missing the last four games due to getting crunched by Stars defenseman Jani Hakanpaa.

Kravtsov received 13 shifts at even strength and played 10:06 with just the one scoring chance that helped lead to Chytil’s goal. He looked okay. There are still things he must work on to become an NHL regular.

Near the end of the first, a missed icing allowed the Rangers to get set up off a face-off win by Trocheck. Casey Cizikas got his stick up on Alexis Lafreniere, who drew a penalty with 6.5 seconds remaining. It would carryover to the next period.

At the start, they finally got some puck luck on the power play. In transition, Panarin sent a centering feed towards Kreider that he redirected off the heel of his stick. The puck still managed to slip past a fooled Varlamov inside the far goalpost for a 2-1 lead 22 seconds into the period.

It was only the second power play goal for Kreider. When asked on Monday about his early struggles, he said they haven’t been going in. But also noted that he’d start scoring. Even in what amounted to a bad loss, this was the blueprint for Kreider to have more success. He was all over the net front and got great opportunities to score more. A goalpost off one of those tip-ins prevented another PPG.

The second was one of the better periods they played. Able to use their team speed and moving the puck well, they were all over the Islanders. That included drawing more penalties to get on the man-advantage. Vesey drew a hooking minor on Anthony Beauvillier following the Kreider goal.

The best chance came when Zibanejad had what looked like a wide open look. Instead of shooting it or even walking in on Varlamov, he tried a low percentage pass across for Panarin that never got there. Joe Micheletti was very critical of Zibanejad. It’s those kind of plays that leave you staring at the wall.

It was the Islanders who got the next five-on-four. Barclay Goodrow cross-checked Lee behind the net to go to the box. Following a Varlamov save on a Zibanejad long try shorthanded, the Isles had a couple of chances. Shesterkin only made one save stopping Nelson. Then, Ryan Pulock fired wide near the end.

Almost immediately when they were back at full strength, Wahlstrom shoved Zibanejad down hard. It followed a Matt Martin check. The puck was nowhere in the vicinity. Prior to Wahlstrom going off for interference, Lafreniere got in his face.

Afterwards, they came close to scoring. Early in the third power play for the Blueshirts, Adam Fox passed up a shot. When the puck was moved back around, he got one on net. Then, Panarin decided to test Varlamov, who made a nice glove save. On the second part of the five-on-four, Panarin had Kreider for a deflection. But his redirection rang off the bar.

Kreider would continue to have some close calls. He had another tip-in that Varlamov stopped. Considering all the looks he had, he could’ve had a hat trick. Last year, it probably is along with a win.

With Cizikas again in the box for a trip on Sammy Blais, who was noticeable throughout on a new fourth line with Goodrow and Ryan Carpenter, Panarin nearly set up Kreider again. They thought he’d scored. The puck was redirected and put underneath Varlamov, who got help from Pelech.

A lengthy video review would follow. MSG showed several replays. But every single one appeared to show that despite most of the puck being over the goal line, there was no conclusive evidence that it was only white. Pelech probably saved a goal by making a hustle play to push the puck that was on edge back into Varlamov.

Still on their third power play of the period, the Rangers managed to make it count. This time, Varlamov mishandled a Panarin shot for a bad rebound that Trocheck pounced on for his first goal in five games. He also picked up an assist on the Kreider goal in the first. It was by far the best he’s looked. He had a goal, assist, a team high eight shots and dominated on face-offs winning 19 of 22.

After controlling play for almost the entire period, they started to turn pucks over. Twice, the Islanders came close to scoring. First, Wahlstrom had a shot graze off the crossbar. Then, Pelech hit the post following a sloppy turnover. That’s all Trocheck felt like talking about during intermission. His words proved prophetic.

As if to prove a point, the Islanders scored just 14 seconds into the third to cut the deficit to one. On a Parise forecheck behind the net, Trouba coughed up the puck. What followed was a Palmieri pass for a Pelech shot right past Shesterkin glove side.

Despite settling in, the Rangers were too passive. They didn’t go for the kill. Against a team that’s playing with confidence, that proved costly. It really was very infuriating to watch.

Kaapo Kakko came close to scoring after putting on a couple of strong moves down low. Only the stick of Pulock prevented him from tucking a backhand past Varlamov.

In an evenly played third, it was the Islanders who were rewarded for sticking with it. Lee sucked Chytil into a hooking minor with 8:18 left. It was one of those calls you always see. I don’t like it because while Chytil did get his stick into Lee, he grabbed his stick to sell it. It should’ve been four-on-four.

Regardless, the Rangers had a chance to kill the tacky penalty off. Following a tough save from Shesterkin to stop Noah Dobson, Nelson was able to score his sixth on a shot that had Lee parked in front to tie the game with 7:14 left. Yet another lead blown.

Before you could even vent, Wahlstrom got away with taking down Kakko in the Rangers zone. While the other four skaters basically stopped playing, they watched Alex Romanov send a shot towards the net that a wide open Lee backhanded in for one of the easiest goals of his career.

Game. Set. Match. Even with 5:30 left, anyone with a pulse knew it was over. The Islanders are a very hard team to come back on when leading by a goal that late. That’s always been their biggest strength. Now, you can add their suddenly improved offense where the defense chips in.

The Rangers only managed three shots the rest of the way. Meanwhile, both Zibanejad and Panarin each turned over pucks that are symbolic of how this team has played. Not together.

With Shesterkin on the bench with 2:06 remaining, they never were able to set up anything. The Islanders defended it perfectly and made one clear.

Trocheck got one last shot with under nine seconds left that Varlamov stopped. The Islanders killed the remainder to win the game. Yet another loss at MSG to the bitter rivals with Varlamov in net. Sadly, he outplayed Shesterkin (4 GA on 26 shots). That simply can’t happen. Varlamov finished with 37 saves on 40 shots despite being shaky.

This was the worst loss of the season. It’s only 14 games. You can keep telling yourself that. Or make excuses like Gallant did in his ridiculous postgame. I’m not buying it.

Simply put. The result was unacceptable.

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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