By Sean Hartnett
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The Rangers enter Monday night’s showdown with the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum riding a three-game winning streak. To extend that streak to four, they will need to be a lot sharper than they were during Saturday’s 5-1 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes.READ MORE: COVID Vaccine 'Mix-And-Match' Study Finds Moderna Booster After J&J Single-Shot Produced Major Increase In Antibodies
Despite the lopsided final score, Saturday’s victory exposed some areas the Rangers must improve upon. Goaltender Cam Talbot bailed his team out in opening 40 minutes, while the Blueshirts failed to establish any kind of forecheck and committed some egregious lapses in defensive coverage.
The Metropolitan Division-leading Islanders have won all three meetings this season, outscoring the Rangers 13-4. The Isles have dominated, pinning their rivals deep in their own end by dictating pace with their relentless forecheck.
The biggest different between the teams is the Isles come hard and fast and roll four lines – and the Rangers get completely thrown off their game. Even with a reported detached retina sidelining star winger Kyle Okposo, the Isles have won four straight games.READ MORE: Supply Chain Issues: 'There Really Are Problems Everywhere,' Even For Small Companies
No matter what head coach Alain Vigneault says, the Rangers are not equipped with the personnel to roll four lines. Dominic Moore is an ideal fourth line pivot, constantly offering two-way smarts, maximum effort, an ability to get under the skin of opponents and faceoff-winning acumen. What the 34-year-old needs is to be surrounded by linemates that fit the correct mold.
Tanner Glass constantly makes his teammates work harder because of his puck possession woes, positional mistakes and frequent coverage issues. He let Coyotes winger Antoine Vermette walk right in and score the tying goal in the second period on Saturday. Additionally, Glass has a tendency to commit undisciplined penalties at bad times, forcing the Rangers’ penalty kill to work that much harder. Fellow fourth liner Lee Stempniak is a decent depth scorer, but he isn’t the type of player who excels at winning puck battles.
The Rangers could really use a healthy Jesper Fast. On Feb. 9, Vigneault announced that Fast would miss two to three weeks because of a first-degree-plus sprain of his right knee. The 23-year-old winger has demonstrated outstanding defensive zone intelligence and dependability with and without the puck. Fast makes smart plays along the wall and gets the most out of his 6-foot, 185-pound frame.
There isn’t much separating the Rangers (33-16-5) and the Isles (37-18-1) in the Metropolitan standings. But regardless if the Rangers are able to come away with a victory at the Coliseum, it’s clear that their fourth line needs an upgrade. There’s still a lot of time before the March 2 trade deadline for general manager Glen Sather to acquire the missing pieces required for the Rangers to roll four lines.MORE NEWS: Woman In Critical Condition After Being Struck By Sanitation Truck In Dyker Heights, Brooklyn
Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey