John Tavares of the Islanders flies over Marian Gaborik of...

John Tavares of the Islanders flies over Marian Gaborik of the Rangers just after shooting on the empty net to score a hat trick late in the third period. (Oct. 15, 2011) Credit: David Pokress

Out of the corners of their eyes, the Rangers did see this coming. The issue that they had concentrated on so much in their week off was penalties. It was this way in two games in Europe and it was this way in their semi-home game at Nassau Coliseum Saturday night: Instead of killing penalties, penalties killed them.

They were whistled for eight minors -- twice as many as the Islanders were -- and gave up two power-play goals. Those were the difference in a 4-2 loss that evoked what John Tortorella had said at the morning skate: "It's amplified. We just can't take the penalties we're taking. We need to cure that right away."

Consider that at the top of their "things to do" list before their trip to Western Canada this week. The Rangers had wanted to return to their black-and-Blueshirts gritty, aggressive style, but they needed to balance that with discipline. This is not an easy balance.

"It's difficult when you've got your stick in the air and you're not moving your feet," said Dan Girardi, the stalwart of a depleted defense corps and the player called for the key penalty at 3:23 of the third that produced John Tavares' tiebreaking goal.

"It's easy when we're playing hard and we're moving our feet," Girardi said. "When we're playing hard and smart, that's our game. When we get away from that, that's when we start taking penalties."

There are many possible explanations for that. For starters, there was the long trip to Europe that culminated in an overtime loss and a shootout loss. "I don't want to hear about Europe," Tortorella said after the game. "[The Islanders] were more disciplined than us."

A person could question some of the calls. Brian Boyle acknowledged that he was "confused" and "emotional" about being called for delaying the game on a scrum in the corner at 10:44 of the second -- before Tavares' first power-play goal.

And there is the fact that the Islanders this season are fast, and sometimes an opponent is hooking or interfering before he knows what he is doing. "They have some skilled guys," Henrik Lundqvist said.

"In this league special teams can be huge. You take five, six, seven penalties, that's tough on the P.K.," the goalie said, referring to the penalty-killing unit. "You put yourself in a tough spot."

Marian Gaborik, who was called for hooking at 15:21 of the third as the Rangers were desperately trying to erase a one-goal deficit, said, "On five-on-five, we dominated."

Other Rangers were not so sure. Ryan Callahan, called for two penalties, said only that the team he captains competed well "in stretches." But in other stretches, not so much.

Boyle put it this way: "We have to go on the forecheck early. We'd have the puck more. That way we would draw penalties instead of taking them."

The bottom line, he said, is the same as it was before this game: "We need to do a better job."

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