With three days left until the NHL trade deadline, even the Eastern Conference-leading New York Rangers are providing their last rehearsals for the main event, which is the stretch run and playoffs. Over the last four games (1-2-1) though, the Rangers have looked anything but the dominating team they've been over the entire season, the latest a 4-3 shootout loss to the New York Islanders, who are also looking to make a run at the postseason.
The Isles tend to bring out the worst in the Rangers and Friday night was no different. The Blueshirts were sloppy -- passes weren't connecting and defensive coverage was shaky. They dug themselves a deep hole early, giving up two goals in a 2-minute, 35-second span early in the first. Matt Moulson sniped his 26th and P.A. Parenteau followed up with his 13th. Martin Biron seemed headed for an early night but actually settled in to make 24 saves. Marc Staal's power play marker gave the Rangers some life, but it was far from one of their most crisp contests.
Parenteau would score at 8:11 of the second period on the power play after Michael Del Zotto received a penalty for throwing the stick to Brian Boyle, who had lost it during a previous play. But even on this night, when the Rangers looked more like a team battling for a playoff spot instead of comfortably in one, the Blueshirts were resilient. Marian Gaborik scored his 28th on a breakaway with a back-handed move. Derek Stepan Scored five minutes later to tie it up at 3. New York's power play was 2-for-2 at that point, though it finished 2-for-5.
The Rangers outshot the Islanders 12-6 in the third period, but couldn't find the back of the net for the decisive marker. Evgeni Nabokov was sturdy in net, making 33 saves.
The Islanders finished with 16 giveaways to the Rangers' 11, but the Islanders had 12 takeaways to the Blueshirts six. In a sense, clawing back in a game that you never led is a silver lining. But the Rangers are showing they're far from a sure thing in the Eastern Conference lately. This is the first four-game stretch without a regulation win. Their struggles may have come at a good time, as general manager Glen Sather can add a piece or two at the deadling to jumpstart his group. The risk lies in the fact it may also encourage him to overspend and potentially damage the core of this team.