Rangers 6, Islanders 5

That the Rangers left Nassau County Veterans Memorial Coliseum with two points Thursday night is in no way indicative of the effort and intelligence they displayed.

Skating against a team that is in contention for the No. 1 overall pick and may challenge the 1974-75 Washington Capitals (8-67-5) as the National Hockey League’s all-time worst single season team, the Rangers played down to their opponent’s level and it very nearly cost them.

The difference, on a night that Uniondale’s old barn sounded like it did during the dynasty days, was a dominant effort by the line of Sean Avery, Erik Christensen and Marian Gaborik. The trio, put together at the morning skate, combined for nine points and was plus-eight in the Rangers 6-5 win over the Islanders. The teams meet at The Garden tonight.

Gaborik recorded his second hat trick of the season—his first was against the Oilers on November 14—and assisted on Christensen’s game-opening goal. Christensen added an assist and won 10 of 20 faceoffs. Avery was a forechecking, cycling demon who drove the Islanders to distraction. He had three assists.

“They had the puck. Sean did a great job in initiating the forecheck, keeping the puck. And I thought Erik and Gabby kind of followed,” praised John Tortorella. “(Just keeping) the puck and grind.”

But the coach was displeased about a collective brain lapse that saw leads of 2-1 and 5-3 evaporate. The Islanders scored three goals in a 13:18 span of the first two periods to take a 3-2 lead. Michael Grabner and Blake Comeau scored consecutive goals in a 2:19 span of the third to tie the game at 5-5.

“It was different momentum swings. It wasn’t pretty at times. When we didn’t stick to our game plan, they came back with a few goals and capitalized on our mistakes. That’s going to happen throughout the season; you can’t always be perfect. We got the win and that’s all that matters,” philosophized Michael Del Zotto.

That the Rangers fought back to earn two points portends well as the season progresses. But it is a concern that had to do so against the NHL’s worst team. The Islanders came into the match with a league low in points (15), wins (5), have scored the second fewest goals (46) while allowing the third most (70) goal. Only the Devils (43) have scored fewer goals than the Islanders, while Tampa Bay (80) and Edmonton (89) have given up more.

And that’s what galled John Tortorella. His team was unable to put away a game but hardly a contending Islanders squad. That does not portend well for the remaining five months of the regular season.

“I think we did some really good things tonight and I thought there were some god-awful things out of our team tonight,” Tortorella said. “The situational play by us, losing the faceoff…you have to give them credit. They played hard. They played hard. We definitely had some breakdowns.”

The line of Ryan Callahan, Derek Stepan and Brandon Dubinsky is the clearest example of the Rangers good and bad last night. The trio combined for a goal, two assists and three points but were a combined minus-eight. Tortorella scoffed when he was told that Callahan suggested that the Rangers breakdowns were due to a lack of familiarity.

“Oh that’s bulls--t. It’s not new lines. It’s just not being aware. We lose Step as a third man. Dubi just, (on Matt) Moulson’s goal, just loses his man,” dismissed Tortorella. “I don’t care who you’re playing with. You need to understand that because it’s something we certainly (concentrated) on after the Pittsburgh game.”

Ryan Callahan (8th) and Brandon Prust (2nd) also scored goals for the Rangers. Martin Biron started but was pulled for Henrik Lundqvist after giving up three goals on 21 shots. Lundqvist allowed two goals on 21 shots.

Along with Grabner, Comeau and Moulson, Zenon Konopka and Rob Schremp scored for the Islanders. Rick DiPietro gave up all six Rangers goals on 26 shots.

Three things we saw:

1 Early action— Shed a tear for what used to be among the premier home stadium advantages in sports. Only 13,742 populated the Coliseum Thursday night. Most in attendance spent the first period cheering for the away team until three straight Isles goals in a 13:18 stretch spanning the first two periods gave them their only lead of the game, 3-2.

2 Hat trick — The Isles’ lead lasted less than a minute thanks to an embarrassing effort from Rick DiPietro. Brandon Prust deflected a shot from the half boards past the Isles’ netminder to tie it at 13:21 in the second. Marian Gaborik’s power-play goal 3:33 later allowed the Rangers to re-take the lead, 4-3. Gaborik added two third-period tallies, including the go-ahead goal with five minutes left.

3 Not right now — There’s just not enough talent on this Islanders team to compete with a playoff-contender like the Rangers. John Tavares and Matt Moulson at the NHL level — along with prospects Nino Niederreiter, Kirill Kabanov and Josh Bailey at the AHL level — give hope to the future. But it’s going to take a while.

Latest From ...