Islanders finding a lesson from loss to Rangers at Yankee Stadium
NEW YORK — Islanders coach Jack Capuano did his homework. He knew that it would come down to simplicity. Before his team even took the ice at Yankee Stadium, the third-year coach called some friends who had done this before, coached a game out in the open air, and asked what to expect. And he knew that success would come from simplicity. The conditions of cold weather and wind and such won't allow much else.
On all rinks—indoor and outdoor—it's best when the ice sheet is a frosty-but-not-frigid 24 degrees. The air temperature at puck drop Wednesday night, however, was 22 degrees. By the middle of the third period, it was 18 with the wind picking up. When the environment is that cold, it makes the ice much harder, more susceptible to holes and cracks, the players said, and that was evident by how much the puck danced across the ice.
"I didn't expect it to be this hard. It was a very simple game out there. You didn't see any nice plays," Islanders winger Frans Nielsen said. "It was tough to do a lot with the puck out there. You could see both teams, it was very simple, but I guess that's how you've got to play on this kind of ice."
For most of the first two periods, the game within the game was just finding a way to tame the puck. Making routine stops at the blueline was a task, receiving passes required deliberate moves. It wasn't until late in the second period when the Islanders finally found a way to make the puck do exactly what they wanted it to do. Center Brock Nelson took a sweet touch pass from Matt Donovan and fired a hard one-timer by Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Cal Clutterbuck got the secondary assist, but the creator of the play was Michael Grabner who used his incomparable speed to win a foot race to a loose puck at the half-wall.
But as quickly as the Islanders opened up the game with the first goal, the Blueshirts responded with a less-than-artful retort. With under a minute remaining in the period, Derick Brassard tried slinging the puck in from a bad angle behind the goal line right next to the Islanders net, but it hit Benoit Pouliot in front. With Isles goalie Evgeni Nabokov down, Pouliot scored into an open net. The majority of the 50,027 bundled-up fans at Yankee Stadium erupted in cheers, and any question of how this crowd leaned was emphatically answered. Though the Islanders were technically the home team, they were definitely in Rangers territory. (Even musical guest CeeLo Green failed to really acknowledge the Isles in his set, pandering only to Ranger fans, who, naturally, booed him anyway.)
Sparked by their late goal to end the second, though, the Rangers then made their push at the start of the third, taking the first seven shots of before rugged winger Daniel Carcillo scored on a juicy rebound in the slot. He beat Nabokov, who looked sharp in his first start since sustaining a lower-body injury on Jan. 6. The 38-year-old goalie made 32 saves in the loss.
"He made a couple of big saves when he was called upon," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "I thought he came up big ... and that was a positive sign for us."
The Islanders will take any positive sign these days, and their loss Wednesday was team's fourth straight. After an absolutely atrocious stretch from November to December, during which they won just three games in a 21-game stretch, the Isles have been consistently inconsistent and just hoping to avoid another demoralizing run. In that way, Capuano said he thought this Stadium Series game might give his team a bit of life, a chance to take a breath of fresh air—literally and figuratively.
Coming away with a loss, however, probably soured the experience, at least for the moment. But the Islanders may have come away with an even more important lesson, something that could help them as they try to narrow the seven-point gap that separates them from a playoff spot. They get another crack at their local division rivals on Friday night in the hostile but surely warmer environment of Madison Square Garden.
"We'll adjust quickly going back to normal ice," Nielsen said. "But maybe this will help us a little bit. Sometimes, I think, in the games we've been losing we haven't been playing simple enough. Maybe this is a good lesson for us, [to remember] to play simple, too."
Simplicity may be imperative for success in the great outdoors, but it's certainly prudent advice in all weather.