“We’ve got to play a full sixty minutes,” John Tavares told reporters after tonight’s 4-1 loss at Madison Square Garden. “We can’t let teams off the hook at the beginning of games.”
That was a simple but true explanation for what ailed the Islanders tonight. There was effort and quite a bit at times, but at others the team was caught flat footed — JT Miller’s two goals come to mind — and was outworked by their opponent.
Rangers rookie JT Miller opened the scoring on, wouldn’t you know it, the first shot of the game. Miller scored his first NHL goal after Mark Streit was caught on a pinch and Nabokov misplayed his angle. Later in the period the Rangers would strike again, scoring their second goal on extended zone possession time when Brian Strait broke his stick, and the Rangers’ Taylor Pyatt stuck himself in front of the net. After neither defenceman moved Pyatt out of the front of the net, the puck found its way to Marian Gaborik all alone in the slot. Gaborik did what he does best and gave the Rangers a 2-0 lead through Pyatt’s screen.
Both goals came against the Islanders’ second line of Frans Nielsen, Michael Grabner, Kyle Okposo, Mark Streit and Strait. All were a deserved -2 after 14 minutes. The first period was a puck fumbling, battle losing, molasses skating good time for the Islanders.
That said, the second period was a total turnaround, with the Islanders controlling much of the play and getting on the scoreboard. John Tavares would score on one of his slick wristers, opting to shoot on a 3-on-2 with his linemates.
The Islanders wouldn’t get any closer in the third, as power play troubles continued. They went 0-for-5 on the man advantage tonight. The penalty kill played well but got burned badly in the third on Miller’s second of the night.
The Rangers won a defensive zone face off and Ryan McDonagh settled things down by taking the puck behind the Rangers net. He started up the ice, with both teams in position, and hit a streaking Miller who split the Islanders defense who buried his second of the night. An inexcusable lapse for an NHL team who had just conceded a face off and dropped back to play defense.
With tonight’s loss at the Garden, the Islanders have now lost three in a row and fall to 4-5-1 on the year, tied with Philadelphia in the Atlantic Division basement but still in contention. They’re in the midst of a logjam of teams with nine or ten points in the East.
It’s still early and there’s still time, but there’s not a lot of time to forgo standings points during a shortened season. If a 10-game losing streak has the potential to be a season killer in a full season, then what’s the impact of five or six on a half season? The Islanders need a few bounces, some extra effort and maybe the help of a Visnovsky or Bailey to keep us from finding out the answer to that question.
Written by Kevin Schultz and Keith Quinn