Friday, April 1, 2011

Islanders turn Rangers into April Fools

Just for the record, it snowed today. This isn't some cruel April Fool's joke. As I somewhat predicted, mother nature is getting the last laugh. Be that as it may with baseball opening up in frigid conditions, the Rangers are in their own cold spell. A night removed from a lackluster effort that allowed Jhonas Enroth to shut them out in Buffalo, the Blueshirts turned blue with a humiliating performance against the chief rival Islanders at Nassau Coliseum, getting wasted literally 6-2.

For a team who has responded to every challenge, this was mind boggling. How could they fall so flat in a critical game against a team that they knew wanted to beat them in the worst way, possibly wrecking the playoffs? You would've thought it was a meaningless exhibition with nothing on the line. Heck. They've given better efforts in preseason than what was on display in Long Island yesterday. Their second consecutive loss and third in the last four have suddenly put the Rangers in a bind. Only three points separate them from ninth Carolina, who visits the Islanders tomorrow before the Blueshirts' next game- a doozy on NBC at the Flyers. Can someone say panic button?

Making matters worse is that if the Hurricanes win as expected, they'll hold the crucial tiebreak due to more emphasis on regulation and overtime victories. Sure. They can only be a point out but given the way our team's playing and a schedule that includes hated rivals Philly and New Jersey which btw ends the season (hopefully not for good), the Rangers just made it a whole lot more difficult on themselves. They're no longer a lock even if the Canadiens continue to fade down the stretch. Even if we tie them, they hold the edge. So, that won't do.

It's basically start scoring again and win or tease a loyal fanbase to death a second consecutive year like Bill Murray's classic Phil character from Groundhog Day. I've seen this story before and don't feel like going through it again. Let's put it this way. Since I've followed hockey, I never missed the playoffs. While that may not apply to the circus and pony act at 33rd and Seventh, I want the postseason. The way this team's competed warrants it. That's why it's so alarming how putrid they were versus the Islanders, who were without stud rookie Michael Grabner, whose girlfriend finally gave berth to a baby boy. Congrats to Grabs!

If they somehow complete this collapse, I will not watch one second of the playoffs. I'll take a long vacation kinda like our resident Devil blogger Hasan after the crap his team pulled. It's not about us competing for a Cup. But about all the losing this franchise puts us through. I'm sick and tired of hearing about how at least we've seen them win one Cup. I'm only going to say this once. Our franchise has been around since the league's inception. They won their first three in less than 20 years! One Cup since in 70 years is pathetic. I am so fed up with all the hoopla about '94. Great. We're another three years from the 20 Year Anniversary. Will our team which at least seems to be heading in the right direction, have finally won two rounds? Let's hope so. This ain't no April Fool's joke.

If this team is serious about erasing last year, then they'll kick the Flyers' ass in two days on national TV. I know we embarrassed them last time. So, they'll be hell bent on revenge. However, all season our team's had tremendous character, which is once again being tested. One more push and they accomplish their goal. No small accomplishment for one of the league's youngest rosters.

Now to what was supposed to be a game. What was that? It sure didn't resemble the hockey club we've cheered for. The Rangers got beat so badly by the Islanders, it would've been a first round TKO. Forget Vinny Prospal's first goal in six that actually put us ahead. The Islanders flat out dominated from start to finish, winning every battle. They forced turnovers, buried chances and took advantage of one of the biggest jokes of a power play that was so bad, they went 0-for-8 including a lifeless 5-on-3 that could've actually given them a two-goal lead. You really wonder if they practice it sometimes. Forget the improvement with Bryan McCabe. Our PP is back to sucking. No shock that suddenly they can't put the puck in the ocean. It is so predictable that the Islander penalty killers just waited for the forced diagonal passes and cleared with ease. You'd have thought they were playing a video game.

If not for Henrik Lundqvist, the Islanders score the first three off odd-man rushes because that's how sloppy the Rangers were. It really begged the question how John Tortorella could not have them ready to play. That's two games in a row that they weren't prepared. I know Tort's done an admirable job, getting this core to buy in. The development of kids like Ryan McDonagh, Mike Sauer and Derek Stepan cannot be understated. Neither can the 160 by Brian Boyle and ultimate warrior Brandon Prust. The team takes on Tortorella's personality. That's why it's so disappointing how poorly they played. In a rivalry game where you knew it was basically the Islanders' Cup even though they're much improved, it's stunning how bad our guys played.

The Isles' first two goals 33 seconds apart from Blake Comeau and Radek Martinek confirmed our worst fears. Anyone who watched the first could tell who the better team was. The Islanders kept giving us opportunity after opportunity, losing discipline over Marian Gaborik's dirty hit that knocked out Frans Nielsen for the rest of the game. Gaborik isn't that kind of player and was fortunate to not get tossed, instead receiving a four minute boarding double minor. What was his excuse for doing little else after setting up Prospal's sixth? It amazes me how a player with his talent can just disappear when he feels contact. I'm not going to go overboard like others who want him to become the next Scott Gomez. Gaborik's our most skilled forward. Those don't grow on trees. So unless they can get a good return back over the summer, you don't trade that kind of elite player. He's just been terrible but let's not forget the bum shoulder and concussion. It would be nice if he scores a couple of big ones over the final four.

Here's my frustration with the coach. Tortorella sometimes makes baffling decisions like dressing Erik Christensen after a dreadful game at Buffalo in which he committed two turnovers on an important power play. How do you dress him after that? If he's not playing with Gaborik, Christy's a waste. Granted. Wojtek Wolski is the latest ex-Yote that's underperforming. Surprise surprise. Michal Rozsival plays every game for a Phoenix team that's making the playoffs. The trade wasn't the problem because it allowed Sauer and McDonagh to grow into our most reliable D pair. No. That's not a misprint. Marc Staal and Dan Girardi are an adventure at times in their end. Guess who leads the team in plus/minus. The kid duo by a country mile. Wolski should've played yesterday. Mats Zuccarello did before he was banished to Connecticut. I'm no genius. But what was the point of playing him if he was going down? MZA had struggled for a while. Why did they wait so long? Now, they can't even recall anyone. From the timing, it sure seems like they're making Zuccarello the scapegoat. Genius. A first-year European who possesses skill and he's the one that's the problem. The move is fine as he's lost confidence. Hopefully, it will come back.

Issue two I have with Tortorella. Your team stunk it up the first 20 minutes and blew power play after power play with Al Montoya keeping the Islanders in the game. Gotta love the irony. Former No.1 pick who was mishandled here suddenly gets a shot and finds a home, getting extended a year and then exacts revenge after how we chased him in the prior meeting. On Tort, our power play just ended and Comeau puts home a rebound to tie it. Then, off a faceoff in which nobody picks up Martinek with the Red Sea parting, he blisters a shot top shelf on Lundqvist on the next shift. How do you wait until it's 4-1 off a bizarre goal from P.A. Parenteau in which Staal basically set him up, before calling timeout? Anyone could see that our team wasn't right. When the opponent goes from down one to one up that quickly in a hostile environment amidst all the Ranger support, that's usually a good moment for a breather. Settle down the team and get them to refocus. Instead, Tort waited until it was too late with mere mortal Jesse Joensuu scoring and then Parenteau cashing in while Staal stood and watched.

Final issue on Tort. How on a crucial five-on-three does he not send out Brandon Dubinsky? If you're going with five forwards, how is your leading scorer not out there? Dubinsky is good in the corners and in front. We had no net presence. Tortorella even forgot to give Boyle a shift. When it's not working, throw some different looks.

Once Lundqvist didn't return for the third, the game was over. Chad Johnson ensured that by giving up goals to Matt Moulson off a great move from John Tavares and Islander legend Trevor Gillies. April Fool's became April Fools. This was a complete disgrace. Of course, Jack Capuano sent out the wolves to avenge Nielsen with Michael Haley bloodying Sean Avery, Zenon Konopka and Brandon Prust battling to a draw and those featherweights Dylan Reese and Ruslan Fedotenko throwing 'em. Jack Hillen and Dubinsky also fought earlier in the chaotic stanza. With the score 6-2 thanks to a Prust tally with 14 seconds left, there was Gillies looking for vengeance. Prior, Dubinsky and Matt Martin jawed before the refs tossed each. They also never allowed Gillies to get at Prust following his goal on the next faceoff. I understand the Islanders being mad that Gaborik injured Nielsen with a dangerous hit from behind. However, the point was made. Why even have Gillies out there? He's not even an NHLer. It reflects poorly on an organization that at times, doesn't get it. The Islanders are better. There's no need to goon it up. Maybe Mario Lemieux had a point. I loathe him too but come on.

Skate off the ice with the win and enjoy it. You just may have ruined the Ranger season. Truthfully, they may have accomplished that all on their own.

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