Heading into a 24-hour stretch this weekend that includes games against the New York Islanders and Buffalo Sabres, the goal was that the Rangers would shake off their mediocre performances from the past week and re-assert themselves as the top team in the Eastern Conference.
But the goal of getting four points in these two games will not come to fruition, as the Rangers lost an exciting, albeit sloppy, 4-3 decision to the Islanders at the Nassau Coliseum.
First of all, let’s face the obvious. Any time the Islanders take on the Rangers, it is their version of a Game 7. After all, there likely are not going to be any bigger games that the team will play in for the remainder of this season. So even though the Islanders may come with a completely lifeless, effortless performance in a 6-0 Presidents Day matinee to a “non-threatening” Ottawa team, of course they’re going to come out guns blazing against the “hated” Rangers with the majority of the fans in their home arena supporting the visiting (in name only) team.
And the Islanders did just that. Marty Biron struggled once again after an abysmal first period against Chicago last week as the Islanders scored twice in the first on just five shots. However, much like that game, Biron did bounce back to finish respectably, and the Rangers regained their legs, with their effort at least paying off in the consolation point tonight. Let’s take a look at the pluses and minuses.
PLUS – Comeback Kids - The Rangers’ ability to bounce back after a demoralizing start has to be commended, as this year’s team has shown on more than one occasion that even if they get down early, they have the ability to bounce back to at least get a point – a trait that has clearly been lacking over the past few seasons.
MINUS – Another weak first – It wasn’t nearly as bad as last Thursday’s four goal onslaught by the Blackhawks, but as mentioned above, it was another tough first for Biron. While he did bounce back to stop the next 21 out of 22 shots he faced after the first period, Biron simply has to come out stronger to start these games when Henrik gets the night off.
PLUS – Save the best for last - Another thing that must be mentioned is that the Rangers completely controlled the play in the third period tonight, despite the fact that Islanders’ goalie Evgeni Nabokov turned aside all 12 shots in the final frame. The Rangers’ effort in the third showed that they were determined to, at the very least, not come away empty handed tonight, and in that respect, they did their job.
MINUS – Lack of discipline – Ryan Callahan’s boarding call late in the third was costly, but the Rangers’ stout penalty kill was able to wash it away. What really hurt, however, was Derek Stepan’s offensive-zone hooking call in overtime to off-set a dirty hit from behind on John Mitchell by Milan Jurcina less than a minute prior. Extremely uncharacteristic play by both players.
PLUS – Power surge! – Despite being unable to make Kyle Okposo pay for a late elbowing call in the third, the Rangers’ power play was effective tonight in going 2-4, with Marc Staal’s second of the year coming in the first and Stepan’s 13th following in the second. It’s a positive to take into tomorrow night’s game.
MINUS – Not enough “skills” to pay the bills – The Rangers’ struggles in the shootout this year continued as they dropped to 3-5 in the skills competition. Biron was once again beaten through the five-hole by Frans Nielsen, and coach Tortorella’s decisions were highly questionable at best (Mitchell? An 0-7 Brad Richards? What about Hagelin? Stepan?). Good news: shootouts (thankfully) do not exist in the playoffs.
PLUS – Thanks for the help – The Rangers lost no ground in the Eastern Conference standings tonight following Vancouver’s 2-1 regulation win over the Devils in Newark, along with the Sabres’ shootout victory over the Bruins. So stating that tonight’s game could be completely washed away is something that can actually be argued.
MINUS – Sabres anything but a pushover tonight – As shown by a hard-fought shootout win over Boston, the Sabres are not going to come into The Garden tonight with the intention of letting the Rangers skate all over them. In the insane lower portion of the Eastern Conference standings, Buffalo is amazingly still alive after a rough start, and they have played improved hockey in recent days – with wins over Pittsburgh and Boston this week alone. It also wouldn’t be entirely unexpected if Ryan Miller once again got the start after his win tonight. So while the most important result is a win, a commanding, statement victory would do wonders for the Rangers with the Devils and Bruins looming on the calendar.