After a dismal start to the 2014-15 season, the New York Rangers have become one of the better teams in the NHL. They have shown the ability to beat almost any team in either conference, at home or on the road. But two teams have had the Rangers’ number in a big way this year–the Tampa Bay Lightning and the New York Islanders.
The Rangers have played each team three times and lost all six games by a combined score of 28-11. Most recently, they came within ten seconds of being shutout twice in a row by the Islanders. Carl Hagelin scored at 19:50 of the third period on January 27 at the Nassau Coliseum to put the final score at 4-1.
For the second time in a row, the Rangers looked lost against the Islanders, most notably against Isles goalie Jaroslav Halak. Despite putting 40 shots on net in the latest effort, they could not solve him until after the game was well out of hand. Call it “Halaknophobia” if you will, but the Slovakian netminder has gotten into the Rangers’ heads lately.
Though Halak was a huge part, he was not the only reason the Rangers lost these two games. In both recent games, the Rangers looked slow and weak in the first period against the Islanders–losing races to the puck and never getting any sustained pressure in the offensive zone.
Defensively, it’s been worse for the Blueshirts. Look at any of the Islander goals in the past two contests, and you’ll see a Rangers team that is missing assignments and running around seemingly without any structure or plan. These were the type of mistakes that plagued them early in the year, but were becoming more and more rare. A hallmark of the Rangers’ recent success has been defensive zone responsibility. Sadly, that went out the window against the Islanders–with predictable results.
It’s almost as though the Rangers weren’t prepared for the speed and physicality of the Islanders, despite having played them just two weeks earlier. In that earlier game the Islanders also dominated with (surprise, surprise) speed and physicality. Not being ready for it twice in a row is inexcusable.
Vigneault: "They out-chanced us badly, and a lot of their opportunities were on puck decisions from our group. We need to be a lot better."
— Pat Leonard (@PLeonardNYDN) January 28, 2015
There’s no way around it–right now the Rangers are the second-best team in the New York metro area. They will need to elevate their game if they want to change that ranking. They’ll also need to find a cure for their Halaknophobia as well.
Kevin has been covering the Florida Panthers and New York Rangers for The Hockey Writers since the 2013-14 season. Before that, he has written about, played, and coached hockey at all levels. He grew up a Rangers fan in the Southern Tier of New York State, but now lives in the Atlanta area with his wife and two sons. You can reach him on Twitter as @kmizTHW , or via email (email@example.com).