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Struggling New York Islanders Defense Could Learn from Rangers

By Andrew Eichenholz
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An uninterrupted stream of clean passes can only go unpunished for so long. The New York Islanders defense learned that the hard way in falling 3-1 to the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night.

However much Islanders fans will not want to hear this, there is something that the team could do in order to help right the ship, especially on the defensive end.  That is to take a page out of the New York Rangers’ book. Before MSG’s coverage of the game went live, the Rangers lost 1-0 in a shootout to the Winnipeg Jets. The thing is, they lost two defensemen during the game and played the majority of the contest with four guys on defense.

Attention coach Jack Capuano and company.  Four defensemen on the Rangers averaged just under 29 minutes of ice time apiece without giving up a goal. Yes, that includes five minutes of overtime, but that is not the point. Calvin de Haan led the Islanders with 22 minutes of ice time, yet pass after pass went uncontested, leaving the Sharks plenty of opportunity to earn chances to put the puck in the back of the net.

When the SportsCenter Top 10 comes out with Logan Couture‘s pretty deflection goal to give the Sharks a 2-1 lead, everybody will marvel at the way that he managed to redirect a quickly advancing shot past Jaroslav Halak for the goal. Not to take anything away from the skill that it took to pull off the goal, but it almost surely would not have happened if the Islanders showed grit on the defensive end.

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When the Sharks’ shot came from the point, and from the deep point at that, just an arm’s length from the blue line, there was a wide open path all the way to the side of the goal crease where Couture was waiting. His deflection would be nearly impossible to pull off if there was any sort of traffic in the way, but there was nobody there. It was as if returnee Travis Hamonic stuck his foot out just hoping that he would get lucky and deflect the puck away from the waiting Couture. That just does not cut it in the National Hockey League.

Back to the Rangers: the Blueshirts gave up three penalties in the game, making their four defensemen really struggle.  As if lacking their captain Ryan McDonagh was not enough, they somehow managed to want the puck. There was an urgency in their skating that gave the Jets no breathing room whatsoever. Never would coach Alain Vigneault be content with watching his team allow a puck go unobstructed let alone untouched from the blue line to the crease. That does not even get into not marking a man down low.

So, when the Islanders looked for an equalizer, and instead saw a 3-on-4 at the blue line turn into a 2-on-1 for the Sharks and an untouched puck into the back of the net, alarm bells should have gone off. How could the Islanders allow two men of a three-man rush get through the zone unscathed to do as they please, especially with the team’s “tough guy” in Matt Martin on the ice trailing behind the play?

That is a question for Capuano to answer, and maybe, however much it may hurt, he should have a little talk with Vigneault.

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