For the first time in their history, the Islanders will host the Rangers in Brooklyn tonight on Rivalry Night. Two bitter rivals renew the rivalry at 8 PM on NBCSN. The Battle Of New York moves from Nassau Coliseum and Long Island to Barclays Center and downtown Brooklyn. From the Belt Parkway and Southern State to the Long Island Railroad and Subway.
As a fan who appreciates history, it’ll be odd to see these two teams do battle in a basketball arena. As most have observed, Barclays isn’t your classic hockey rink. Unlike the Coliseum which had great sight lines, there are obstructed views and overpriced seats. I’ll be curious to see if this is a sellout. The Islanders drew 15,795 for their home opener against the Blackhawks. They also drew 15,171 for the Canadiens on Nov. 20. So basically they’ve had one sellout in 14 home games.
Astonishingly, this is the first meeting of the season between the Rangers and Islanders. They also meet Jan. 14 in Brooklyn. The Islanders visit MSG twice on Mar. 6 and Apr. 7. That’s what you get with an unbalanced schedule. Not great when it comes to a classic rivalry. Somehow, there are no home and homes between these bitter rivals.
In their new building, the Islanders are 8-4-2. After a slow start, they’ve played better lately. Winners of three of their last four (3-0-1), they’re fourth in the Metro Division with 30 points. Tied with the Pens in points with one more game played, they enter 13-8-4 trailing the first place Rangers by six. Following a hot stretch that saw them reel off nine straight and 10 in 11, they’ve dropped three of four. Even Monday’s 4-3 win over the Hurricanes was ugly. They lost defenseman Kevin Klein to a strained abdomen muscle. He’ll miss between two to four weeks.
The Rangers are already without Derek Stepan (broken ribs). Tanner Glass was recalled from Hartford. Forward Emerson Etem is sick. So, Glass could make his return. He played two games before being sent down after clearing waivers. In 17 games with the Wolf Pack who are bad, Glass had two goals and three assists with 23 penalty minutes and a minus-11 rating. Brady Skjei and Adam Tambellini each are minus-7 in their rookie seasons. Ryan Graves is Even and Calle Andersson is minus-four.
The Islanders are led by captain John Tavares in scoring with 11 goals and 21 points. In 31 career games versus the Rangers, he’s 11-17-28. Kyle Okposo (6-14-20) and Frans Nielsen (9-10-19) are off to good starts in contract years. The Isles will be hard pressed to keep one.
After being recalled from Bridgeport, Ryan Strome has come back up and played well. He has four points in three games including a goal and helper in a 5-3 home win over the Avalanche. He struggled early to the point where he agreed with coach Jack Capuano that a assignment to Bridgeport could give him a kick in the butt. So far, so good.
Jaroslav Halak gets the start. In 13 starts, he’s 6-4-2 with a 2.02 goals-against-average, .921 save percentage with two shutouts. Henrik Lundqvist will oppose him. He’s allowed 12 goals in his last three starts. He permitted three to Carolina on 36 shots. A game that saw the Rangers defense struggle mightily. They continued turning over pucks and were out-possessed by a NHL doormat. They basically hung on.
Despite a 17-6-2 record, the Blueshirts have struggled with puck possession. Their puck management has been shaky. Most of the season, Lundqvist and backup Annti Raanta have covered up for mistakes committed by Dan Girardi, Marc Staal and others. While most of the focus has been on Girardi and Staal, Ryan McDonagh has had his own issues getting beaten by Chris Terry for a breakaway goal on Monday.
It’s not just the back end that’s struggled. They have gotten inconsistent performances from Chris Kreider (4 goals in 25 games) and Kevin Hayes (6-9-15). J.T. Miller has also been up and down. He has his moments but still commits bad turnovers that get punished by coach Alain Vigneault. It would be nice if Vigneault did the same to other forwards when they screw up. Jesper Fast took a bad penalty in a Bruins loss. Kreider has been mystifying. He did score against the Canes thanks to Cam Ward, who was asleep. Kreider is the player they expect better from.
Mats Zuccarello leads the Blueshirts in scoring with a team best 11 goals and 22 points. After going without a point in four straight, he scored a power play goal on Monday. Along with Rick Nash (8-8-16), he’s been the catalyst. Derick Brassard (7-10-17) had a goal and helper in the win over Carolina. He has improved on face-offs (55.0 percent). The top line still can be lazy defensively. There are moments where they get caught watching.
It’ll be interesting to see what the second and third lines are. Hayes should center the second while Oscar Lindberg anchors the third. The fourth line should be Jarret Stoll anchoring Dominic Moore and Glass. As for the D, Girardi will slot up with McDonagh in place of Klein. Dylan McIlrath is back in. Gotta figure he’ll be with Keith Yandle while Dan Boyle works with Marc Staal.
The Islanders are healthy entering. Here are the projected lines: