The first week of play for the Rangers has come to a close. The Rangers finished out the week by playing 35 near-flawless minutes Tuesday night when they faced off against their cross-town rivals, the New York Islanders. The only problem is that hockey games are 60 minutes, and not 35. Not putting together a full 60 minute effort is something the Rangers are struggling with here in the early days of the new season.
It’s true. The Rangers played two pretty good, well-rounded periods against the Islanders. Red-hot Rick Nash put the Rangers up 1-0 a little over six minutes into the first frame when he beat Jaroslav Halak on a backhand shot from a bad angle. The goal was Nash’s 5th of the still very young season, which extended his goal streak to four games, making him the first player in New York Rangers history to open the season with a four game goal scoring streak. (Nash would go on to add another goal late in the 3rd period, but by that time the Rangers’ hopes of a comeback were all but gone.) Nash has now scored 6 goals in 4 games, and even with the birth of his first child the day before, he didn’t seem to miss a beat.
GOAL!!! Rick Nash does it again!!! He becomes first player in #NYR history to score in each of first 4 games of season!! It’s 1-0!!
— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) October 14, 2014
Then, in the second period, the Rangers even bordered on dominant when they out-shot the Islanders 21-8. The Rangers had put together 35 solid minutes of hockey. However, when they found the back of the net only once in the second against Halak – who was utterly tremendous between the pipes for the Islanders – the frustration began to mount for the Rangers and they surrendered a late period-tying goal to John Tavares. By the time the puck had dropped at the start of the third period, the wheels had all but come off for the Rangers.
Before we move on from “The Good” for good, there have been a couple of other positive signs for the Rangers despite recent losses. Those are the play of newcomers Lee Stempniak and Ryan Malone, and of youngsters Anthony Duclair and Kevin Hayes. All four of those forwards have made their presence felt both physically and offensively thus far, and when full health eventually does return to the Rangers, one or more of these forwards will more than likely get bumped. That’s sure to create some healthy competition for the open spots which, in theory, should help motivate each one of these guys to bring their “A” game day-in and day-out.
Yes, you’re right. This is not how the saying goes. But for the sake of this article we’re going to mix up the order a bit. “The Ugly” in this latest loss for the Rangers was simply their inability to put together a solid, full 60-minute effort. Unfortunately for the Rangers though, this has become a trend of sorts during their current three game losing streak. The Blueshirts were clicking on all cylinders for a little over half the game Tuesday night, but when Michael Kostka (more on him in a moment) turned the puck over behind Henrik Lundqvist with five minutes remaining in the second period, John Tavares made him pay.
While there’s no disputing that Tavares’s goal took the wind right out of the Rangers’ sail, the fact of the matter is that the game was still tied at that moment. The game was still right there for the Rangers’ taking, but instead of recovering in a way that a fully functioning team would, by tightening up on defense and regaining their strong forecheck, the Rangers fell flat and allowed three more Islander goals in the first 5:20 of the third period. In a matter of minutes, the score went from 2-2, to 5-2 in favor of the Islanders. It was a strikingly similar fate to Sunday against Toronto, when the Leafs scored three in a five-minute span during the second period of that game.
And just like Sunday against the Leafs, the Rangers had no response to the Islanders. The team of the first two periods had disappeared, and the Islanders had all but sealed the deal.
If the Rangers are going to be able to keep their heads above water during this adjustment period without Stepan and Boyle, they’re going to have to find a way to play a full 60 minutes with the group at hand, and they’re going to need to do it fast.
Why is Michael Kostka “The Bad” and not “The Ugly?” Well, because he was just that Tuesday night in his Rangers debut against the Islanders. Bad.
Rangers color commentator Joe Micheletti put it perfectly when he referred to Kotska’s debut as “nightmarish,” because for the 28 year-old defenseman, it was. In 15:42 of ice time, Kostka was a minus-3 with three giveaways, two of which led to Islander goals. One of Kostka’s giveaways came with five minutes left in the second period along the goal line and led directly to Tavares’s game-tying goal. Then, just 48 ticks into the third, Koska again tried to play the puck along the goal line, and his “pass” up the middle landed right on the tape of Islanders forward Kyle Okposo. Okposo made no mistake and ripped a shot past the blocker of Lundqvist. Kostka played a key role in giving up the game-tying and game-winning goals for the Islanders. There’s no beating around the bush on this one. Last night definitely wasn’t the Rangers debut Kostka had in mind.
But Rangers coach Alain Vigneault hasn’t put the blame on any one defender, nor should he have. He is, however, putting all the weight on his defense as a whole, telling reporters ahead of Thursday night’s game against Carolina that there have been, “way too many turnovers from our defense group. As a group they’re playing under par.”
Though it seemed hard to imagine during the later stages of Tuesday’s game, maybe, just maybe Kostka will get a second chance after all.
All of That Said, Take a Breath
This may seem like a lot of doom and gloom, and in a way it is. The Rangers are struggling: they’ve been outscored 17-8 over the past three games, they’ve looked less-than tight defensively at times, two key players are injured, their defense corps has been called out by the coach for their sub-par play, and a full 60 minutes hasn’t exactly been in their playbook. Having said that, Rick Nash is on a tear, and a number of other newcomers are making a quick impact on the team. As I’ve written before, it isn’t all bad.
Now that the new season is one week old for the Blueshirts, it’s almost starting to feel like we’re seeing re-runs of the Rangers from October 2013. Ranger fans should probably slow down though, remember how early it still is, and take a breath before the panic hits overdrive, at least until the puck drops on Thursday against Carolina.
Jake Gittler is now in his second season as a contributing member of The Hockey Writers. After spending the 2014-15 season working in Communications for Adirondack Flames of the AHL and covering the New York Rangers here for The Hockey Writers, Jake’s coverage has been switched over to the Colorado Avalanche for the 2015-16 season. Jake can be reached via email at Jakegittler@gmail.com, or on Twitter @Jgittler_hockey.