After a letdown of a performance on Sunday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the New York Rangers were looking to bounce back with a big win before they headed off to the All-Star break. The Blueshirts were set to take on the New York Islanders for the third time within a week on Tuesday – there was a lot of meaning to this game for both squads.
The Rangers needed two crucial points if they wanted to keep pace with the rest of the Eastern Conference teams vying for a wild-card berth. The Islanders were attempting to snap a three-game losing skid and to maintain their top-three position in the Metropolitan Division. As we all know now, the Islanders wound up prevailing in another great game between these two long-time bitter rivals. Let’s do a quick analysis of some of the key highlights of the contest.
Panarin Out With Injury
This was already a telltale sign of bad things to come for the Rangers in this game. Prior to puck-drop, it was announced that Artemi Panarin would not lace up the skates as he was tending to an upper-body injury that has been nagging at him the past several days. The Rangers suffered on offense when they played Columbus Sunday and that was because Panarin most likely wasn’t fully healthy then, either. Now with him completely absent from the lineup, the Rangers already found themselves in a hole before the game began.
Surprisingly, the Rangers generated way more offensive chances than the Islanders even without their best player available. They outshot the Islanders 42-18 by the conclusion of the game, yet they still lost 4-2 in the end. While they did create a lot of chances, they still failed to capitalize on most of them.
If Panarin wasn’t out, you could make the argument that the Rangers would have notched another goal or two. If that occurs, then they are right back in the game and who knows what the outcome would have been at that point? It just goes to show how important Panarin has become to this organization since he was acquired last summer. While it is great to see someone of Panarin’s caliber on the Rangers’ roster, I fear it can harm the rest of the team.
Tuesday night exemplified that as the Rangers were unable to convert at a higher rate on the numerous scoring opportunities they had throughout the game. They’ve grown a little too dependent on Panarin’s talents to bail them out this season and it has become a bit of a crutch for them. Guys like Mika Zibanejad and Ryan Strome need to step up in a bigger way especially when Panarin misses time in the future. Yes, Strome did score a goal that was disallowed because of offsides earlier in the game, so I need to give credit where credit is due. But, we must see similar production like that from him in the future if Panarin is out.
We don’t know how serious Panarin’s injury is. The Rangers took a cautious approach Tuesday and did not want to jeopardize losing him for an even longer period of time down the stretch. It’s fortunate that the All-Star break has arrived so it will give him some extra time to recover before the next game which won’t be until Jan. 31 against the Detroit Red Wings. Let’s keep our fingers crossed Panarin will be healthy and ready to go by then. The Rangers certainly will need it regardless of how dependent they have become on him if they want to stay alive in the playoff chase.
Penalties Slowed Down, But Not Enough
The penalty-killing unit was a major reason for the Rangers losing in Tuesday’s grudge match. The Islanders scored twice on the power-play and it harmed the Blueshirts’ chances at winning. Both power-play tallies occurred in the first period and that created the foundation for the Islanders’ eventual victory in the contest.
Strome ended up committing a high-sticking penalty on Brock Nelson with 7:41 remaining in the first period to put the Islanders on their first power-play opportunity of the evening. Once again, the Rangers were guilty victims of a careless penalty that ended up putting them in a precarious spot.
The Islanders made them pay for such a mistake. With 50 seconds remaining in the power play, a faceoff occurred in the Rangers’ zone to the right of goaltender Alexandar Georgiev. Derick Brassard won the draw from Zibanejad off the tie-up and sent it back to point-man Noah Dobson.
Dobson proceeded to rip a shot from the blue-line with traffic in front of Georgiev. Josh Bailey tipped the puck on goal and Georgiev made the initial save on the play with his right pad. Unfortunately for the Rangers, defenseman Ryan Lindgren was positioned next to Georgiev’s right pad as Bailey deflected Dobson’s shot on net. As the puck bounced off of Georgiev’s pad, Lindgren became the unlucky recipient of an own-goal incident. There was nothing Georgiev could do to prevent the puck from going in as it was a bang-bang sequence of events that transpired.
Some may make the argument that it was a bad bounce for Lindgren and the Rangers, but had Strome not committed a careless infraction a little over a minute earlier, then the whole situation would never have occurred. Regardless, the Rangers found themselves down 1-0 with a little under six and a half minutes to go before the intermission. To the dismay of the Garden faithful in attendance, the costly penalties weren’t over yet.
Not even two minutes after the Islanders scored did defenseman Brady Skjei get caught for hooking Anthony Beauvillier. Once again, it was another lazy and negligent penalty committed by the Blueshirts. The Islanders returned to the power-play with the intention to double their lead before heading to the locker room.
With about a minute remaining in the Islanders’ man-advantage, the Rangers had a wonderful short-handed chance to tie the game up. Strome crossed the blue-line and sent the puck into the slot towards a streaking Jacob Trouba. He tipped the puck on goal but goalie Thomas Greiss was up to the task as he stopped it from going in. Trouba took one last desperate jab at it as he was falling but the Islander netminder denied him of that opportunity as well. Then Greiss quickly swiped the puck towards Devon Toews who then passed it over to Bailey and they headed up the other way.
It was a fast break as the Islanders gained the zone. Bailey carried the puck up to the left face-off circle before twisting it behind him to Mathew Barzal. As the Rangers were scrambling to get back into position, he shipped it over to Beauvillier who sniped a shot that beat Georgiev glove-side. The Islanders had scored their second power-play goal of the game and claimed a 2-0 lead over the Rangers in the process too.
Believe it or not, those two penalties ended up being the only ones that the Rangers commited for the entire night. I emphasized after the Columbus game that the Rangers needed to be more disciplined in the future. While they did shave down on the number of avoidable penalties in Tuesday’s game, the two calls were very damaging to their chances of winning the contest. High-sticking and hooking infractions wound up being the difference-maker for this game. If the Rangers don’t go down shorthanded in those two situations, then the Islanders’ chances of scoring decrease dramatically.
The Rangers could have very well entered the third period down one goal instead of three. Nelson’s goal would have only doubled the score to 2-0 and when Pavel Buchnevich’s and Chris Kreider’s goals were buried later on that period, then it would have been a tie game. Who knows what would have happened had those penalties not transpired back in the first period. It’s likely the Rangers may have pulled out the victory, or at the very least forced it to overtime and gained a critical point in the standings.
Sadly, we’ll only be left wondering and speculating what could have been. The Rangers will enter the NHL All-Star break on a two-game skid with a 23-21-4 record. They are now 11 points back from the Carolina Hurricanes for the final playoff spot and it’s not looking pretty. Fortunately, they will get to play the lowly Red Wings in back-to-back games starting Jan. 31 once the break concludes. These are very winnable games and they are four points the Rangers are in dire need of to remain within the hunt.
The distance between the Rangers and the last playoff spot is growing with every loss that piles up. They need a long winning streak to jolt them back to life. Two games against a Red Wings team in terrible shape could be just what the doctor ordered to get things started. Let’s see if the Blueshirts can take care of business.