NEW YORK – During the Rangers’ up-and-down start to this regular season, they’ve won a lot of games they deserved to lose.
Wednesday night, at pulsating Barclays Center in Brooklyn, they lost one they deserved to win. One of their best performances of the season ended in a shootout loss, with Islanders winger Kyle Okposo scoring the only goal of the skills competition to give the Islanders (14-8-4) a 2-1 win during the teams’ first-ever meeting in Brooklyn.
“I think it’s a good game we needed for ourselves,” said defenseman Dan Girardi. “A nice good rivalry, in a new building, a lot of hostility, good fans – half-and-half – it was a good atmosphere to be in for us to get our game going and have a good, solid night.”
“The effort was there tonight, the work was there,” said defenseman Dan Boyle. “On most nights, with that kind of work ethic, you’re going to end up with a win.”
But they didn’t end up with a win on a night roughly half the sold out arena was rooting for the road team. The Rangers (17-6-3) dominated puck possession, especially during the first period, perhaps their best 20 minutes of the season. But they couldn’t beat Islanders goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who made 33 saves to earn his seventh win of the season.
The Islanders struck first at 12:22 of the second period, when John Tavares scored on a 5-on-3 power play. But the Rangers answered with 1:23 left in the period when Viktor Stalberg deflected Marc Staal’s point shot past Halak. That was it for the scoring on a night the teams pounded a combined total of 71 shots on net during a game played at playoff intensity.
“I thought we managed the puck better tonight,” said coach Alain Vigneault. “I thought it was a hard-fought game by two teams that battled real hard, battled for every inch on the ice. Both teams had some good looks, goaltending was good on both sides.”
“It’s definitely a step forward,” said Girardi, who’s starting to find his game after a rough start to the season. “It was pretty close to a 60-minute game, I think. Obviously they’re going to have their chances, there are going to be momentum swings. They get one 5-on-3 goal. That’s it. That’s a tough one for us, but we didn’t give them much 5-on-5. So that’s a really good night for us.”
Frankly, a lot of players had a good night on Wednesday, including Tanner Glass, who was recalled from Hartford due to Emerson Etem’s illness. Glass, who skated on a line with J.T. Miller and Oscar Lindberg, had perhaps his best game during his two seasons as a Ranger.
“Any time you get a promotion, it’s an opportunity,” Glass said. “I just tried to come in and play my game. Bring the intensity and physicality that I think are my calling cards. Resulted in a pretty good game.”
Miller was excellent on the third line, while McDonagh was a factor on the defensive end all night. Keith Yandle was a menace for the Islanders to deal with, as was Chris Kreider. The list goes on.
“I think our mindset’s been good here for a couple games, if not more,” Vigneault said. “We’ve been managing the puck better. Tonight there were a lot of hits being thrown out there, so both sides had to have willingness to take a hit to make a play. I liked how we competed. It was a good game.”
“Definitely a lot more in sync there,” McDonagh said. “Compete level was where it needs to be, our execution with and without the puck was pretty close to where we want it for the whole game.”
“As long as we’re working hard, we’ll figure it out how the game goes. We worked really hard tonight,” Girardi said. ”We had a good effort tonight but we didn’t get the two points. We’ll take the one and move on to tomorrow to build on this good effort.”
The Rangers allowed two goals or fewer for the 16th time in 26 games this season. They’ve allowed two goals or fewer in an NHL-leading 110 games since the start of the 2013-14 season.
The Rangers are 28-5-4 in their last 37 games against Metropolitan Division opponents.
The Islanders and Rangers played their second-ever game not at now-closed Nassau Coliseum or Madison Square Garden. They faced off at Yankee Stadium on Jan. 29, 2014, as part of the NHL Stadium Series.