During his press briefing Thursday afternoon, Rangers head coach John Tortorella stated unequivocally that he would change the personnel as needed due to game conditions.
The coach lived up to his vow as his most devoted acolyte was benched for the much of the third period Thursday night at the Garden.
“He struggled,” Tortorella said of his benching of Brad Richards following the Rangers 4-3 shootout loss to the Islanders. The coach was quick to note that the benching had nothing to do with effort. “I felt I had to.”
Signed to nine-year, $60 million deal in July 2011, Brad Richards skated one 47-second shift of the final regulation period and 1:18 over two overtime shifts in the Rangers’ loss. Richards finished with an assist in 14:50 of ice time.
“I couldn’t make a play in the second. It’s on me,” Richards said. “There’s not really much else to say. I was just trying too hard. Instead of moving the puck, I was trying too hard and that’s why I got myself in jams. I’m smarter than that.”
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He added that Tortorella did not explain his decision but he did not expect one.
“No,” Richards said. “There never would be.”
Thursday night’s loss was symptomatic of the Rangers’ campaign to this point: Not a complete effort.
The Rangers started strong as they entered the first intermission period with a 2-0 lead on the strength of Dan Girardi and Marian Gaborik goals.
But Colin McDonald (:29), John Tavares (6:45) and Brad Boyes (7:25) potted back-to-back-to-back goals in a span of under seven minutes of the second period to give the Islanders a 3-2 lead. Carl Hagelin’s fourth goal in three games sent the teams to the second intermission tied at 3-3.
“There was a little lull,” Derek Stepan said. “It ends up hurting us. We have to find a way to handle those surges.”
The game stayed tied until the shootout. Frans Nielsen and John Tavares scored in the skills competition while Marian Gaborik and Rick Nash were stoned.
Despite the cries of the Garden during the second period, Martin Biron was good in his second start of the season as he made 28 saves. Biron’s biggest save was one in which he did not get credit on the stat sheet, as he forced Michael Grabner to shoot a backhander wide with 11 seconds left in overtime.
“Sometimes I just need to make a save and stop the bleeding,” Biron said. “We just need to find a way to stop the bleeding there and I needed to find a way to do it.”
The Rangers had won eight straight against their suburban rival at the Garden prior to Wednesday night’s game. The last time the Rangers lost to the Islanders at the Garden was a 2-1 decision on Dec. 16, 2009. With their first win this month, the Islanders improved to 5-7-1 on the season.
“I liked the way we responded,” Islanders head coach Jack Capuano said. “Give credit to them. They fought hard and they deserved the two points tonight.”
Even though the Rangers fell to 7-5-1, Tortorella espoused the positive. The Rangers have earned seven of eight points in their last four games. Twenty-seven percent of the way into their season, the Rangers’ 15 points are eighth most in the Eastern Conference.
“We found a way to just get a point,” Tortorella said. “That’s the way you have to look at it sometimes. I’m not going to run them down because I thought we had some good minutes in that game and we’ll go from there.”
Brian Boyle was engaged throughout in his first match back after being a healthy scratch in the last three games. He led the Rangers with eight hits in 17:39 of ice time and generated eight shots.
“I think [my performance] was a little bit better,” Boyle said. “Still want to make more of a difference [and] put the puck in the net. I think it was better.”
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.