There's a funny thing that happens whenever the Rangers lose to the Islanders: People panic about things that had nothing to do with the loss itself. Case and point: Apparently the Rangers lost on Tuesday because they weren't big enough or finishing enough checks.
Last I checked, the Rangers lost because they couldn't score a goal until the 59th minute of the contest, but to each his own, I guess.
There's another narrative that came with the loss. The Rangers can't hang with elite teams.
Right now the Rangers are sporting a 27-14-4 record, which is good enough for the top wild card spot in the conference. The Blueshirts are a single point away from Washington for third in the Metro (with three games in hand and one more ROW than the Capitals), four points behind Pittsburgh (with three games in hand and equal in ROW) and eight points behind the Islanders (with two game sin hand and one less ROW). It's a lost closer than you might think at first sight.
So do the Rangers have issues with elite teams? No, the Rangers have issues against two elite teams. The Lightning and the Islanders have beaten the Rangers three times each this year, representing 42% of the Rangers' losses. That's a scary figure -- especially since the Rangers might need to run through them to make it to the Stanley Cup -- and the final two contests against the Islanders will go a long way to seeing just how scary it is.
It also means, however, the Rangers are 27-8-4 against the rest of the league, including a brutal West Coast swing. Who have the Rangers beaten thus far?
The Rangers are 3-0-1 against the Penguins (2nd in the Metro), 1-0 against the Capitals (third in the Metro), 1-1 against the Red Wings (leading the Atlantic Division), 1-1 against Montreal (second in the Atlantic), 1-0-1 against the Blues (second in the Central), 2-0 against the Sharks (second in the Pacific) and 1-0 against the Ducks (first in the Central and the best team in the NHL right now).
Does that look like a team that has trouble against all elite teams? Those totals don't even count the road win against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Kings (who currently sit out of a playoff position in the West) or the win over Calgary (who hold a playoff position themselves).
This isn't to say it's going to be easy sailing back to the Stanley Cup Final. The Rangers still have lost all six tilts against the Lightning and the Islanders, and lost their first matchup with the Bruins (who hold the final wild card position in the Metro). What I am trying to say is the blanket assumption the Rangers have beaten up on the dregs of the NHL while struggling against the teams at the top is an oversight at best.
Both the Lightning and the Islanders used their speed and depth to pound the Rangers into the ground and keep them hemmed in their own zone. The Rangers' response, apparently, is to play more grit and toughness in Tanner Glass -- who is allegedly playing for J.T. Miller tonight against Montreal.
There's a lot of reasons why this doesn't make sense. We've run through a ton of them enough times that I probably sound like a broken record. But for a team that relies on its fourth line to handle tougher defensive assignments -- note: that's how the fourth line actually does open up space for the top guns -- it's a mind blogging decision to consistently dress a guy who couldn't even hang with the Islanders' fourth line on Tuesday.
The Rangers drew the blueprint for success last year. A fourth line that's a nightmare to match up against (nothing to do with fighting) that can handle the opposing team's top players in the defensive zone. This opens up better matchups for the top six because they'll be playing against the opposition's bottom six more often than not. Want to know who drags the Rangers' fourth line abilities into oblivion and makes it an easy matchup for the other team? I don't have to tell you, since you already know.
I've referenced this in the past but I think it's important to bring up again. The bar for success has already been set last year. Anything other than a very, very deep playoff run is going to be a failure. And to be honest, the Rangers might need to lift the Cup this year to have this season marked as anything other than that.
So do the Rangers have trouble against elite teams? Some, but not really.
If the Rangers keep shooting themselves in the foot and dressing an inferior lineup, however, they might start having trouble with more.