February 17, 2015

Rangers end Isles Four Game Streak, Brings Weakness to Light

Many people want the Islanders and Rangers to meet in the playoffs. I am not one of those people, unless it is in one of the later rounds. The game between them on Monday night, although it provided some great entertainment showed much of the reason why this is a match-up that could be dangerous for the Isles regardless of what the regular season shows.

The Islanders fell in a heartbreak, losing 6-5 to their rivals and blowing all sorts of leads thanks to shoddy passing and decision making. While both teams were very sloppy the Rangers knew that they needed to play this kind of a style in order to be able to beat the Islanders at their own game. And for the Isles, these were two crucial points they gave up to a team with a couple of games in hand. The Rangers earned them though with relentless pressure on an Isles team that more often than not looked confused and spent a lot of time chasing.

Given the way some of the other contests had gone you knew the Isles were due for the law of averages to take effect against the Rangers. When push came to shove, this was a game the Isles ultimately could have had. But the Rangers showed the intensity that is normally needed to pull out these wacky games. For me, I forget about the reffing and missed penalty calls. It was clear at some point in the 3rd period that nothing was going to be called, and while the missed trip was awful it is what it is. There was no point in complaining about it. There were plenty of missed calls on both sides all night.

I see some pointing at the recent trend the Isles have shown, including in their recent four game winning streak. I am well aware that the Isles have blown two goal leads against some less than stellar teams. But guess what? Teams are blowing two goal leads all over the place. Welcome to the NHL.

What tells me more about a team is how they fight that adversity. Of course it is not ideal to be going through every game of blowing these leads regardless if its to a team that was in the Cup finals last year or a team that is poised to be picking in the lottery. The Islanders had shown some resiliency in those games and pulled out wins over teams they were better than.

Jaroslav Halak and the Isles handled the track meets well so far against the Rangers, until Monday night. I certainly don't put all of the blame on his shoulders. As a matter of fact, there is probably only one real issue worth pointing out from this game: this team has an inability to clear pucks.

It doesn't matter if it's on the penalty kill or not. This team cannot get out of their own end unless they have the ability to carry the puck up the ice. When teams do not give them this time and space, they struggle and can't get out of their ruts. We saw this happen in those games against the bottom feeders. We've now seen it happen - and to a greater degree, of course - against one of the top teams in the league.

This is a concerning issue and something that brings me back to the point I was making on the latest installment of our show on Sunday. The powerplay and top line wing spot are not areas that I have much concern over right now. This team has proven night in and out they have the horses to get the offense, they just need to show more of a willingness to shoot in the same fashion that Johnny Boychuk did in the second period of this game. Lubomir Visnovsky, warts and all of late, has been the only defenseman not shy to fire the puck away and it's been a noticeable difference since he returned to the line-up.

The penalty kill and the Isles inability to clear pucks are areas that we should be most concerned with. And for all the love they seem to be getting, the 4th line has issues with this. Especially Cal Clutterbuck. More often than not I feel he does an excellent job to fight for pucks in the defensive zone but hesitates a second or two trying to decide where to go from there. Then it becomes an issue of trying to force a play that isn't there but was just a few moments earlier. And a veteran, defense first player is one the Isles should absolutely be looking into over the next two weeks (Daniel Winnik, Jay McClement).

The Isles offense was good when they got going and they used their bodies to their advantage. John Tavares did more of what we've seen the past few weeks where he used his body and balance to keep himself on pucks and generally make it hard for the Rangers to pick his pocket.

The Isles definitely had the right game plan for Cam Talbot, as they shot early and often. Talbot did make some great saves, as he's done in place of Henrik Lundqvist. In reality, the goaltenders were really not a huge part of the story line in this game although Halak did give Isles fans some heartburn with some other misplayed pucks. That will have to be cut down, especially with their inability to get pucks safely out of the defensive zone.

The Isles can't let this game dwell and it didn't seem like they planned on it, knowing that they have to get right back at it on Tuesday night in Carolina. They did not get the two huge points they needed and just have to let it go for now and learn from their experience.

Hey, the Rangers figured it out and you could tell they must have watched plenty of film in preparation for Monday night's game. Onward we go.

It seems like Chad Johnson will and should get the start on Tuesday night. The Hurricanes are struggling this season but have won some games of late. Despite their win earlier this season, playing in Carolina has not usually gone well for the Isles but this is a different kind of team than the ones we've seen in the past few seasons. So they do have that going for them.

If the Isles play in a similar way in front of Johnson as they did in Boston, then they should be just fine.

- Chris

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