Embarrassment is being kind to describe what went on at Madison Square Garden Saturday afternoon. Of course, if you were rooting for the road team, it was an “afternoon delight.”
The Islanders played a terrific all around game as they overwhelmed the Rangers with a convincing 7-2 victory. The win gave the Islanders a sweep in the road portion of the season series as they captured their only two visits to MSG this season. In their last two home games, the Rangers have been outscored 12-4.
This was not just a bad game or a blip on the radar screen. This loss is alarming because the Rangers continue to play a brand of hockey that just won’t cut it if they plan on making the playoffs.
The Rangers looked totally out of sync defensively. Checking and spacing in their own zone was sub par while at times, the Rangers made this Islander team look like the one that won four Stanley Cups in the 1980’s. “We give up four goals in nine minutes was it, just way too many errors,“ said Rick Nash, who hasn’t scored a goal in nearly a month and has only two goals since November 15th.
Nash was referring to the barrage inflicted by the Islanders’ attack that began late in the first period. With the score tied at one, Islanders’ center Shane Prince broke the tie with his first of the season for a 2-1 lead after one. The Islanders came storming out of the gate in the second period thanks to spectacular rookie Matthew Barzal who scored twice before 20-year old left wing Anthony Beauvillier scored his second of the game, just under seven minutes in, to blow the game wide open with a 5-1 lead. Barzal literally skated rings around the Rangers as he created a number of scoring chances with his speed and puck handling. The 20-year old added three assists, is the NHL’s rookie leader in points and a leading candidate for the Calder Trophy.
Numerous defensive lapses created an eye opening amount of odd man rushes and the Islanders exploited the transition game to put seven goals past Ranger goaltenders Ondrej Pavelec (who surprisingly started) and Henrik Lundqvist who came in after it was already 5-1. McDonagh could only tip his cap but knows his team was responsible for the one sided affair. “Obviously gotta give then credit they made a lot of plays and were stronger on the puck, played a high percentage game, we didn’t give ourselves much of a chance at all,” he said.
Since their last regulation win on December 19th, the Rangers have gone 3-4-2 in their last nine games and valuable points are slipping away. Lundqvist had the “pleasure” of watching the game from the bench before experiencing the frustration of the day for himself. “I’m just disappointed, it’s a big game,” Lundqvist said, “playing a team that’s right there, points means a lot right now.”
With their bye week behind them, the Rangers looked forward to a “fresh start” but this certainly was not what they had in mind. “We had a good meeting yesterday coming out of the bye week,” Ryan McDonagh said in quite locker room. “I did not foresee this happening like this.”
The Rangers have failed to take advantage of the games in hand they had on their competitors and now find themselves searching for answers. McDonagh said the players are to blame and they are the ones to find the solution. “Watch your shifts and ask yourself if you’re doing whatever you can to help the team win,” he said. “Are you leaving your line mates out to dry, your goalie, how many looks are you gonna give them throughout a game, that’s unacceptable.”
The schedule only gets more difficult from here.
There are two home games this week against Philadelphia and Buffalo before the Rangers depart on a four game road trip that takes them to Colorado, Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Jose and the All Star break. As for rebounding from this brutal loss with a game in Pittsburgh just over 24 hours away, Lundqvist said, “It starts with, to go to yourself and bring everything you’ve got.”
The Rangers will be on the same plane but will they be on the same page. “We’ve had guys at times playing the way we need to play but for us to be successful we need everybody buying in,” said McDonagh.