Islanders throttle lifeless Rangers after long break
If the devil is in the details, then the Rangers are finding out just how difficult the Metropolitan Division is going to be.
The Blueshirts once again saw the stark reality of just exactly what they’re up against if they want to contend for the postseason over the dog days of winter, getting totally out-skated (and out-skilled) Saturday afternoon in a 7-2 throttling by the Islanders at the Garden. Maybe even more surprising is that both teams were coming out of their five-day bye weeks, and the Rangers came out sloppy and often lifeless.
“I did not foresee this happening like this,” captain Ryan McDonagh said. “We didn’t give ourselves much of a chance at all.”
The Rangers (22-16-6) are still in front of the Islanders (22-18-4) in the standings by one point, and the Brooklyn rivals (for now) are still trying to find their own collective game following a 6-11-2 stretch that brought them into the break. And as injuries leave them woefully undermanned, they still had the game-breaking talent out there in center Mathew Barzal, who scored two goals, added three assists, and took the rookie scoring lead with 44 points.
On a line with fellow rookie and recent call-up Anthony Beauviller (two goals and one assist) and Jordan Eberle (four assists), the line ran roughshod over their matchup against the Rangers’ presumed top unit of Mika Zibanejad, J.T. Miller and Mats Zuccarello.
“Barzal’s line dominated Mika’s line the whole game,” coach Alain Vigneault said. “I’ve got three of my top players there, and they were dominated the whole game. It was definitely not a good game for us.”
It was the same common mistakes that have plagued the Rangers all season, with turnovers through the neutral zone sending the opposition in on odd-man rushes. And against the skill of the Islanders, they were often going back confused on how to cover.
“It was self-inflicted wounds,” said Brady Skjei, who joined defensive partner Kevin Shattenkirk with an unsightly minus-4 rating. “It’s a communication thing. We need to be louder, point more, do something, because we need to clean that up, for sure.”
All of the miscommunication and lost battles led to the Rangers giving up three goals in the opening 6:51 of the second period and the Islanders taking a 5-1 lead. It got goalie Ondrej Pavelec pulled, having given up five goals on 20 shots before being mercifully replaced by Henrik Lundqvist. As he was coming into the game, Lundqvist skated up and down the bench with some stern words for his teammates.
“I felt like we needed to take a deep breath and try to refocus a little bit,” said Lundqvist, who is likely to start in the second leg of this back-to-back Sunday night in Pittsburgh after allowing two garbage-time goals to Thomas Hickey and Cal Clutterbuck while facing 18 shots over 33:07. “It was a day where they took advantage of us not playing a really good game. It was tough to watch, it was a tough game to play, and we just have to regroup here — fast.”
That’s because it’s right on to the Penguins, the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions who are certainly flawed, but certainly talented. Same as the Islanders, Devils, Flyers, Blue Jackets and Hurricanes. Vigneault was asked if this game changed his opinion of just exactly what he has on his roster, and his hesitation told a big story.
“I think in the past, a lot of players have proven that they’ve been able to do it,” Vigneault answered, “but I’m more in it for what you are doing for me right now.”
The season can get away from the Rangers very quickly, and with more performances like this, it will.
“If we do the same thing, it’s going to be the same result,” McDonagh said. “I hope our guys understand the importance of [Sunday]. It’s a huge game for us and I hope we come ready.”