It isn’t often that a head coach will target a top trio as being outplayed for 60 minutes.
But a steaming Alain Vigneault publicly ripped his first line- — Mika Zibanejad, J.T. Miller and Mats Zuccarello after the Rangers’ 7-2 loss to the Islanders on Saturday at Madison Square Garden. It was the Rangers’ most lopsided loss of the season.
“Barzal’s [Mathew Barzal] line just dominated Mika’s line the whole game,” Vigneault said. “I had three of my top players there and they were dominated the whole game.”
Barzal, Jordan Eberle and Anthony Beauvillier together produced four goals and eight assists, mostly on odd-man rushes, as errors and miscommunications mounted in the first game after the bye week for both teams.
“I think we came out with the right mindset, the execution kind of got us,” said Miller. “There’s too many breakdowns, that leads to too many chances, too many breakdowns and too hard for our goalies to come up with too many saves.” Indeed, the baffled and perhaps a little lax Rangers couldn’t find a way to slow down the Islanders at all.
The only other time an opponent had scored more than seven was in the second game of the season, an 8-5 defeat in Toronto and captain Ryan McDonagh questioned the hunger of some of his teammates.
“The main thing is, we want a group in here that’s willing to whatever it takes to win,” McDonagh said. “Right now, we don’t have enough guys going like that. We had guys at times playing the way we want to play, but for us to be successful we need everybody buying in. Right now, we don’t want it. If we do the same thing [Sunday in Pittsburgh], it’s going to be the same result. I hope our guys understand the importance of tomorrow.” The Penguins beat the Red Wings at home, 4-1, on Saturday.
The Rangers were officially credited with 28 hits.
Someone should demand a recount.
“Goals one, three and four, we had numbers and we just don’t check,” said Vigneault. “The first it’s a three-on-three, third and fourth goal are exactly the same thing, the forward and the D pointing to the wrong guy and not checking, stick on puck and playing the man . . . I didn’t expect this at all tonight not with the importance of this game and the rival we’re playing against.”
Brady Skjei took responsibility for Shane Prince’s goal in the first — a breakaway that snapped a 1-1 tie. Skjei’s shot hit Vinni Lettieri in the arm, forcing the rookie winger to drop his stick. “I pinch in, they get a breakaway,” Skjei said. “Way too many odd-man rushes, all game. We need to be louder or point more or clean them up. We need some guys, including myself, we can’t be relying on these older leaders every night — we’ve got to step up. A lot of self-inflicted wounds.”
Trailing 2-1 after the first period, three goals in the first 6:51 of the second created a hole from which the Rangers couldn’t climb out. If it wasn’t a Kids’ Day crowd at the Garden, the mood would have been much more hostile and coarse.
Seconds before he skated toward the net to replace Ondrej Pavelec, who was victimized for five goals on 20 shots and was pulled at 6:51 when Beauvillier’s second goal made it 5-1, Henrik Lundqvist stopped in front of his team’s bench to give his teammates a pep talk.
“I felt we needed to take a deep breath and try to refocus,” said Lundqvist. “We were jumping into plays were not supposed to. We stepped up, they used the boards and they were coming at us.” That didn’t shake the Rangers out of their funk either.