The New York Islanders square off against the New York Rangers again today. This time, the Isles need to do a better job of maintaining their composure.
The New York Islanders came out strong Monday night against the Rangers. Jordan Eberle scored just 18 seconds into the game on a beautiful play where he patiently outsmarted Rangers netminder Alexandar Georgiev. The Isles followed with two more grade-A scoring chances less than a minute later.
Then, things took a turn for the worse. At the 2:13 mark of the first period, Ross Johnston dropped the gloves to fight Michael Haley. Before the refs had the chance to drop the puck, Matt Martin got into another fight with Brendan Smith. The Martin/Smith fight was particularly consequential, as both players received automatic ejections since the puck had not been put back into play.
From that point on, the rest was history. The Isles gave up numerous odd-man rushes, got outworked along the boards, and simply lacked the same intensity that the Rangers had. The Islanders wound up losing 6-2.
It’s easy to see the two fights at the 2:13 mark of the first period as a turning point in the game. Prior to the fights, everything was going the Islanders’ way. After the fights, almost nothing went the Islanders’ way. The fights alone are not the reason the Isles lost. Nonetheless, there is little denying that the fights helped wake up the Rangers and shift momentum over to them.
For the Islanders, there was little need to get into the fights in the first place. Sure tensions were high against the rival Rangers, especially as it was their first meeting of the year. Still, there was little to gain for the Isles from the fights. The Islanders were already off to a hot start and did not need a momentum boost.
If anything, the Isles could have tried to bait Haley or Smith into an instigation penalty in order to add onto their lead with a power-play goal. Instead, the Islanders took the bait from the Rangers and fought. To make matters worse, the Islanders lost Martin and the element of toughness that he brings. This forced them to play a forward down for the rest of the game.
This is exactly what the Rangers will do to opposing teams. As of today, the Rangers lead the entire NHL with 592 PIM. The next most penalized team is Anaheim with 525 PIM. The Rangers also lead the NHL in major penalties (20), misconducts (9), game misconducts (3), and are second in the NHL in fights (18).
Should the Islanders maintain their composure and play their style of hockey against the Rangers, I believe that the power play opportunities will come. I realize that statement is laughable, as the Isles have had the least power-play opportunities in the NHL. Their 99 PPO trail the 123 PPO of Anaheim, the next closest team in that category.
Still, the Islanders saw three power-play opportunities against the Rangers on Monday night. This was above their season average of 2.2 PPO/game. The Isles even scored on one of their power play opportunities. The Rangers’ PK, which ranks 21st in the league, is not particularly strong and may concede even more goals to the Isles Thursday night. If the Isles keep their composure they’ll have a good chance to take the two points.