John Tavares scored his fifth goal of the season, and the Islanders had a 28-25 advantage in shots on goal, but lost to the New York Rangers 4-1 Thursday at Madison Square Garden.
The loss drops the Islanders to 4-5-1, while the Rangers improve to 5-5-0, jumping one point ahead of the Islanders in the Eastern Conference standings.
Following the game, Islanders Head Coach Jack Capuano addressed some of the good and bad elements of his team’s performance.
“I thought if we came in here and held them to the mid-20s in shots, that we’d have a good chance of winning the game,” Capuano said. “You’ve got to play for the guy next to you and the guy across from you. I told the team that after the game. I’m disappointed with some guys’ battle level tonight. Our power play couldn’t get it going when it was a one-goal game. They gave up a breakaway shorthanded. We’re a game under .500 now, and we have to get it back on Saturday.”
J.T. Miller scored his first NHL goal on the Rangers’ first shot of the game at 1:29 of the first period. Following an Islanders turnover in the neutral zone, Miller caught the defense going the wrong way as he took the blue line. Evgeni Nabokov, who stopped 21-of-24 shots, got a piece of the puck on its way in. Chris Kreider and Marc Staal earned the assists on the play.
Later in the period, a prolonged Rangers attack led to their second goal. Brian Strait blocked Staal’s point shot, but Marian Gaborik picked up the loose change at the top of the slot. Nabokov was screened by traffic in front, and the Slovakian netted his team-leading sixth of the year at 14:04.
Midway through the second period, Tavares’ fifth goal of the season cut the Islanders’ deficit to one. Tavares led a 3-on-2 rush into the attacking zone, watched the defense back off, and fired a laser beam over the shoulder of Lundqvist at the 11:13 mark. The tally was Tavares’ 20th point (seven goals, 13 assists) in 18 career games against the Rangers.
The home team re-established its two-goal cushion before the end of the period on a power play. Ryan McDonagh sprung Miller through the neutral zone on a breakaway, and the rookie deked around Nabokov for his second of the evening.
Nabokov expressed his frustrations after the game.
“It seems like sometimes we are satisfied to be in close games, but there’s enough talent in here to work hard and win games,” Nabokov said. “We need to start better, and that starts with me and it goes along the line with everybody. That’s the bottom line.”
The Islanders took a 1:37 man advantage into the third period, and had two full power plays in the final frame, but were unable to mount a comeback. The Islanders finished the game 0-for-5 on the power play.
“Coming from behind on the road against a team like that is tough,” Tavares said. “We started to generate some momentum when we got the goal in the second. Their third goal was a tough one. We had some more chances but we just didn’t get enough of the second and third opportunities that lead to goals.”
With two minutes remaining in the third period, McDonagh intercepted a pass in the neutral zone and put away an empty-netter. His unassisted goal concluded the scoring at 4-1.
The Islanders return to Nassau Coliseum on Saturday, Feb. 9, when they take on the Buffalo Sabres at 7:00 p.m.
New York Islanders
26 Matt Moulson - 91 John Tavares - 21 Kyle Okposo
40 Michael Grabner - 51 Frans Nielsen - 24 Brad Boyes
41 David Ullstrom - 10 Keith Aucoin - 53 Casey Cizikas
36 Eric Boulton - 16 Marty Reasoner - 17 Matt Martin
47 Andrew MacDonald – 3 Travis Hamonic
37 Brian Strait - 2 Mark Streit
52 Joe Finley - 14 Thomas Hickey
20 Evgeni Nabokov
39 Rick DiPietro
New York Rangers
14 Taylor Pyatt - 19 Brad Richards - 10 Marian Gaborik
62 Carl Hagelin - 21 Derek Stepan - 61 Rick Nash
20 Chris Kreider - 47 J.T. Miller - 24 Ryan Callahan
8 Darroll Powe - 15 Jeff Halpern - 45 Aaron Asham
18 Marc Staal - 4 Michael Del Zotto
27 Ryan McDonagh - 6 Anton Stralman
97 Matt Gilroy - 44 Steve Eminger
30 Henrik Lundqvist
43 Martin Biron