“Without a question we beat ourselves,” stated New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist after his team lost to the New York Islanders 5-3 Friday night at Madison Square Garden. For most of a sloppily played game, the New York Rangers were the better team. Unfortunately for them playing better didn’t mean playing great, nor did it give them two points.
The special teams were where the game was won and lost. The Rangers, who have a streaky power play, went two for seven while the Islanders, who were one for their last nine in a span of four games, went one for five. But what hurt the Rangers the most were the two short-handed goals they gave up. It was the first time since 2008 that the Rangers gave up two SHGs in a game.
The first goal of the game and the first of the two short-handed goals is and will continue to be one of the most talked about events that happened in last night’s game. The referees gave the Islanders an early Christmas present when the called for a penalty shot after Ryan McDonagh “hooked” Cal Clutterbuck. While on the power play, McDonagh couldn’t settle the puck down and it careened into the team’s defensive zone. Clutterbuck had a step on McDonagh and started on a breakaway. Apparently the ref believed that McDonagh took away a scoring opportunity for Clutterbuck and awarded him a shot. The call baffled the Rangers’ bench and McDonagh as he thought he was just making a standard defensive play. Lundqvist admitted that he was “really shocked” by the referee’s decision, as were most people in the arena. Video replay clearly showed that McDonagh simply lifted the stick of Clutterbuck, but the call was made and Clutterbuck beat Lundqvist to put his team on the board.
The Rangers’ power play woes continued with their next opportunity. Matt Carkner was called for holding on Derek Dorsett, which gave the Rangers a chance to tie things up. But McDonagh’s inability to keep control of the puck and the speed of Michael Grabner led to a breakaway in the other direction. Grabner was able to fool Lundqvist and make him commit, allowing him to beat Lundqvist stick side.
“Those were grade-A chances,” Rangers Head Coach Alain Vigneault noted of the scoring opportunities the Rangers gave the Islanders in the first period. “He [Lundqvist] did the best he could.”
Thirty seconds after he let in the second goal, Lundqvist got a little help from his teammates. One beautiful passing sequence, arguably the best coordinated play of the evening, and the Rangers were on the board. The Rangers were on the power play set up in the offensive zone looking for a lane, but the Islanders were doing a good job in preventing them for getting a decent look. The Rangers continued to move the puck around and it found its way to Derick Brassard in the right circle. Brassard moved the puck below the goal line to Chris Kreider who quickly sent a sharp and short pass to Benoit Pouliot set up in front of Evgeni Nabokov. Pouliot wristed a shot and cut the Islanders’ lead in half.
The second period was just as exciting as the last few minutes of the first. The Rangers were able to tie the game and take the lead before the Islanders tied it up again. Announcers, coaches and players will tell you that good things can happen when you get the puck to the net. Last night, Dorsett proved that to be true after he slapped a shot from the right circle and ended up tallying his third goal of the season. The puck deflected off of Thomas Hickey and found its way past Nabokov three minutes into the period.
Five minutes later, the Rangers power play struck again. Derek Stepan was in perfect position to gather the rebound Nabokov left after Rick Nash threw a shot at the net. Stepan never hesitated and fired a shot past Nabokov. However, the Blueshirts’ lead didn’t last long. A little over four minutes later Brian Strait slapped a shot from the top of the offensive zone. The puck grazed Lundqvist’s glove, but he didn’t get enough of it to keep it out of the net. It was Strait’s first goal in the NHL, as well as Ryan Strome’s, who had an assist on the goal, first NHL point.
The third period was a constant struggle between both teams. Each wanted to notch that fourth goal and take away two points. The Islanders were able to do just that. Thomas Vanek scored the game-winning goal on the 5-on-3 man advantage. Vanek’s first power play goal as a New York Islander was a rocket that found its way between Lundqvist’s legs and dribbled past the goal line before any Rangers defenseman could get to it.
As time dwindled down the Rangers continued to receive ample opportunities to tie it up. With less than 10 minutes left the Rangers were awarded two power plays, but the man-advantage proved insufficient for the Rangers and they dropped their fourth home game in this nine-game stand.
Brad Richards summed up the entire game in 11 words. He stated, “We had a chance to win the game and we didn’t.”
The Rangers know why they didn’t win the game, but what they need to work on is how to find a way to win.