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The Dreaded Letdown Game: New York Rangers’ Forecheck Snowed in by Isles, Fall 5-3

January 22nd, 2014 at 9:30 AM
By Ricky Cibrano

'Kyle Okposo and John Tavares' photo (c) 2014, slgckgc - license:
For the second time in as many games, Rick Nash struck in short order for the games first two goals, but unlike the Capitals two nights before, the New York Islanders refused to follow the script and go quietly into the snowy New York night.

Nash scored a minute into the game, then once more on a breakaway 10 minutes later–giving the big winger 16 on the year and 9 in his last 9 games–sending the Garden into a frenzy at the thought of a rout. But it was not to be. The Islanders overcame 2-0 and 3-1 deficits to shock the Rangers at home 5-3, snapping the Blueshirts 3-game win streak.

Even when the Rangers had a 2-goal lead, their hold on the game seemed tenuous at best. Ryan Callahan said:

"I don't think it was a 3-1 game at the time. I thought they were controlling most of that game, for large amounts of it. We get out to that lead and we gotta try to grab a hold of that hockey game and realize that we need to up our intensity, our energy."

Upping the energy and intensity is exactly what the effervescent Islanders did each and every time the Blueshirts–who were consistently half a step behind–put one past goaltender Kevin Poulin. For a time, the Rangers were able to withstand the Isles counter attack, but in the face of nearly relentless pressure, mistakes were bound to, and eventually did, happen. 

Of the Isles first 3 goals, each one can be blamed on a defensive miscue. No one picked up Matt Martin or Thomas Hickey on goals 1 and 2, and on the third, Michael Del Zotto, Marc Staal, and Brad Richards were all in the neighborhood of, but cruised by, the rebound generated by John Tavares' chance, allowing Colin McDonald to beat Cam Talbot.

A final–and ultimately fatal–error came in the form of a too many men on the ice penalty late in the 3rd that set up Thomas Vanek's game winner. The Isles would weather a frantic, pulse-pounding final minute and a half–that saw the Rangers do seemingly everything but put the puck in the net, with a tired group of Islanders stuck on the ice–before Frans Nielsen's empty netter sealed it.

One of the two teams on the ice had played the night before, but any observer oblivious to that fact never would have suspected it was the future Brooklynites.

"The whole game didn't feel totally right" said Brad Richards. "We were a little behind in our thinking, for whatever reason. We've played some good hockey the last few weeks, but we were pretty loose and just kinda, waiting for things to happen throughout the game."

Credit to the Islanders, who, as winners of 10 of their last 13, are frantically trying to save their season after a horrid start. The Isles played like a desperate team, and the Rangers did not. The top line of Tavares, Vanek and Kyle Okposo combined for 7 points, and was dominant all night. The trio played like hyenas on raw meat, refusing to let the beleaguered Blueshirts get the puck and establish their all-important forecheck.

Netminder Kevin Poulin was big when he needed to be too, denying Chris Kreider–who had a goal and a monster game otherwise–on a chance in front right before Martin broke through for the Isles first tally, and spurning Nash's bid for a hat trick late in the game with a stack-the-pads stop.

With the loss, the Rangers fall to 27-22-3 (12-12-3 at home), and Cam Talbot–who was sharp early and certainly not at fault on any of the goals–see's his record drop to 10-4-0. But, if the Blueshirts are to rise above the mediocrity of the East, this is they type of game they have to avoid–a team significantly lower than them in the standings coming into the Garden and outplaying them on their home ice.

Yes, Rangers-Isles is always a toss up, and yes, playing the Islanders right now is akin to running into a buzz saw, but the fact remains that the Blueshirts failed to take care of business against a last-place team on home ice, and that's something that must change going forward.

The good news is, if the Rangers have revenge on their minds, they won't have to wait very long, with two more games on tap against the Isles before the end of the month–with one of them set to take place on the frozen tundra of Yankee Stadium.

Tags: Brad Richards, Cam Talbot, Chris Kreider, Hockey, John Tavares, Kevin Poulin, Kyle Okposo, Marc Staal, New York, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, NHL, Rick Nash, Ryan Callahan, Thomas Vanek

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