Rangers Blank Isles 3-0

On Christmas Eve Saturday, New Yorkers everywhere tuned in as the New York Giants faced the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium.  Despite getting off to an excellent start, scoring a touchdown on their opening drive, the Jets looked very much like the weaker of the two teams all game long.  They could not find a big play when they needed it, and made key mistakes – none larger than Victor Cruz’s 99 yard TD catch – which cost them the game.

On Monday night at Madison Square Garden two Atlantic division rivals faced off, and again New Yorkers tuned in to watch their teams compete.  This time it was the New York Rangers facing the New York Islanders.  And despite a few stretches of the game where the Islanders looked to control the play, the reality is that like the Jets, they played their part of weaker team to the Rangers for the majority of the game.

Rookie forward Carl Hagelin was in the right place at the right time – twice – for the home team, and a miscue by the Islanders with their net empty gave the Rangers more than enough on the scoreboard.  The Islanders were shut out for the 7th time this season as they fell to the Rangers 3 – 0.

When down two goals late in a game, usual standard operating procedure is to look to pull the goalie with approximately 2 minutes remaining.  Ideally, this gives the trailing team approximately 1 minute to score a goal to cut the lead in half, and then another minute to attempt to tie the game.  It is generally considered unwise to have the net open for more than 1 minute, as it is extremely rare to keep sustained pressure for greater than 1 minute without turning the puck over – even up 6 skaters on 5. 

For what seems like the ump-teenth time this season, Islanders coach Jack Capuano called for his goaltender to come to the bench down two goals with about 3:30 remaining.  After a minute of solid pressure, the Islanders inevitably lost the puck to the Rangers, who promptly deposited it in the empty net (courtesy of Marian Gaborik, glad we could help pad his stats… ) to end any chance at a comeback.

Earlier this season, when the Islanders were struggling to get scoring from players not named John Tavares, coach Capuano was reluctant to change up his lines.  He has made minor tweaks recently with the bottom six forwards, but the top 2 lines have remained unchanged despite an underwhelming amount of scoring. 

According to the Islanders Twitter account, the lines were fully shaken up at practice today – featuring Kyle Okposo now flanking John Tavares, along with Matt Moulson.   The changes are needed to spark chemistry amongst this young, floundering, yet still highly talented offensive group.  Capuano’s job is to get the most out of his players.  After being one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference in the second half of last season, this is surely not the start to the year the Islanders envisioned.

With each loss before the All Star Break, the Islanders are dropping lower in the standings and further out of contention from making the playoff tournament.  If Capuano hopes to retain his title as a head coach in the National Hockey League, he must make the most of the upcoming month before the break.  His team needs to make up some ground and have a second half similar to that of last season to even have a hope at earning a playoff berth this season. 

Stars of the game in my eyes – Henrik Lundqvist, Brian Boyle, and Dan Girardi. 

Lundqvist was there to make a key stop every time the Islanders even had a remotely good scoring chance.  His pad save off a rebound from Frans Neilsen while the Rangers were down a man was probably his best save of the night.  I was out of my seat and counting that play as a goal before Lundqvist’s right pad appeared and stuffed the Islanders forward.

Brian Boyle comes to play against the New York Islanders.  Period.  His physical presence in the corners is simply impressive – and the Islanders have absolutely no one who can match up with his strength along the boards.  Not even team hits leader Matt Martin was able to knock Boyle off the puck, despite multiple opportunities. 

Dan Girardi might deserve a star every single game the Rangers win without Marc Staal.  He plays big minutes against the opposing team’s top line, and Tavares and co. were not able to do much when facing Girardi on D. 

Honorable mention goes to the two goal man, Carl Hagelin – the Michigan Wolverine product.  Hagelin did a great job getting to the slot and being in the right place at the right time, twice, and has shown a great finishing ability in the beginning of his NHL career.

The Islanders next face the Calgary Flames at home on Long Island.  They could desperately use a win to stop their current three game slide.  Here’s hoping that there is still some magic left up coach Capuano’s sleeve, and that his latest line changes can spark the offense to get on the board at the Old Barn.


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