Rangers Need to Stop Surrendering Center Ice

NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 29: Mike Sauer  of the New York Rangers shoots and scores against the Detroit Red Wings in the first period during a preseason game at Madison Square Garden on September 29, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Yesterday’s Rangers/Islanders afternoon game was interesting because it saw the Rangers pretty much pick up where they left last season — following strong games with incredibly sloppy performances.

Where the Rangers were aggressive and effective in their first game of the season against the Sabres, against the Islanders they were passive and careless.

The Rangers led by a goal in the third, but gave up two powerplay goals on a 5-on-3 and the subsequent 5-on-4.

Rangers coach John Tortorella continues to encourage his defense to get involved in the offense. He also continues to encourage his defenseman who’s not involved in the play to keep his spot along the left or right point, rather than rotating into the middle of the ice. This allows teams to chip the puck out to center ice (or the side where the other defenseman should have been) for a breakaway. This can lead to goals or to Ranger penalties, as the Rangers must hook or trip to slow the ensuing breakaway.

So far, this seems to be an improved Rangers team from last season. It’s still early in the season, but there seems to be more balanced scoring. But they still lack a shutdown defenseman to keep opponents honest. They lack a defenseman who lives and breathes protecting his own end.

Until they have that kind of presence, they’re always going to be a team that’s prone to cough up leads, unless the lead is huge.

Islanders coach Scott Gordon runs an offense that’s similar to Tortorella’s in that defensemen are encouraged to get involved.

But Gordon’s Islanders seem way more committed to their system. Or at least they did Monday. Despite lacking so many of their key players (John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Mark Streit), the team stayed in the game, refusing to give up on plays, keeping their forecheck aggressive, and just wearing the Rangers down.

The Islanders seem to understand they’re not going to have many highlight reel goals, but they’re content to hold onto the puck as long as they can, until something happens for them.

It made for a great afternoon of exciting, end-to-end hockey, but it also made you wonder why Gordon’s team seemed so much more mentally and physically prepared than Tortorella’s.