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This one is going to reverberate within the walls of the Rangers’ executive suite this summer. Or at least it should.
Because on yet another night opposing a team that was dedicated to taking away their time and space, in yet another game where will was going to be a more important ingredient than skill, the Blueshirts came up puny.
It was 4-0 Islanders at the Garden on Thursday in one that was even less competitive from the start than last Tuesday’s 6-1 humbling at the Coliseum. So this is nothing new. Last Tuesday was nothing new either if you paid attention to the Bubble Series against the ’Canes last August.
Once again, the Rangers’ marquee players, the ones with upper-echelon talent, the veteran ones who are supposed to show the way to the phalanx of youngsters, had nothing. Artemi Panarin was shockingly inept and never once was a factor in this one, failing to send one shot on net. Mika Zibanejad was slightly better but not by a margin distinctive enough to make the slightest bit of difference.
The playoff dream has all but evaporated, the Blueshirts slipping six points behind the Bruins and seven points behind the Islanders. The tragic number for elimination is five points as pertains to Boston. This almost seems like an afterthought.
Then again, the Rangers themselves seemed to treat their playoff hopes as an afterthought from the moment the puck was dropped.
This falls back on the leadership group. This also falls back on David Quinn, the head coach whose team not only lost decisively, but seemed lost from the get-go. The players were scattered and disconnected in all three zones. This one did not reflect well on anyone.
“I think we’ve got to learn from them and do some of the things they do and have a little bit of the mentality they have,” Quinn said after his team was shut out for the third time this season by Semyon Varlamov, who maybe faced a handful of isolated chances. “We’re built differently, so maybe we’re going to have the ability to score some goals that other teams don’t, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do the things everybody can do.
“That’s where we’ve got to get better. We’ve got to understand situational hockey better and not get frustrated. This is something we’re just going to have to learn from, and obviously a game of this magnitude, we’ve got to learn how to win games like this.”
Competing in them might be a good place to start.
The Rangers are 16-6-2 against the three teams behind them in the division. They are 12-3-1 against New Jersey and Buffalo. But they are 10-13-4 against the four pending playoff qualifiers. And the recent track record through which the club mounted what for all the world seems like an illusionary run at the playoffs is far less flattering.
Because beginning April 9, while the Rangers went 7-1 against the Flyers, Devils and Sabres, they have gone 1-2-1 against the Islanders, 0-2-1 in the last three. The big guns who frolicked against the division doormats have been erased by the more formidable Islanders, who are not only not impressed by their fancy foes, but stuff it right back at them.
In those eight games against Philly, New Jersey and Buffalo, Zibanejad scored six goals, Panarin five, Pavel Buchnevich and Chris Kreider (who was sidelined for this one with an unidentified injury) three, with Ryan Strome chipping in two. That adds up to 21 goals in eight games for the Big Five.
But in the four games against the Islanders, they have combined for one goal, the empty-netter scored by Zibanejad in the April 9, 3-1 victory. Nothing since. This represents a small sample size, yes, but it is reminiscent of the way it went under the bubble.
When time and space are at a premium, the Rangers don’t have either the mentality or the personnel to adapt. They are a one-trick team. This is not a matter of being young. This is a matter of not having the necessities.
When all this started back in March of 2018 with The Letter, the objective was as simple as it was bold. That was to build a Stanley Cup champion. The team might have continued to make the playoffs into the future if reinforcements had been added to the core — say, Panarin — but no one wanted a string of postseason one-and-dones. Hence, the tear-down before the buildup.
Now, this letdown. Now, another letdown. Something is amiss. One can be excited by the number and level of prospects through the pipeline and still look sideways at this enterprise. The Rangers’ youngsters have taken steps forward but the team has gone backward. This sure isn’t the way they played against the Islanders last year.
Five games to go now. This one will reverberate for a while. This one should reverberate into the summer.
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