If At First You Don't Succeed... Islanders/Rangers Pre-Game
The New York Rangers return from the Christmas break leading the Atlantic Division and off one of their biggest wins of the season, a 4-2 Winter Classic preview over the Philadelphia Flyers. The New York Islanders, however, return from the break tied for last place in the Eastern Conference and 11 points out of a playoff spot. The two teams, on opposites sides of the East River and the standings, meet for the second time in four days Monday night at Madison Square Garden.
In their last meeting on Thursday, the Rangers came away with a comfortable 4-2 win. Martin Biron improved to 7-1-0 with 24 saves and Marian Gaborik scored his 20th goal of the season, which up to that point tied him for the league lead in goals.
Friday night against Philadelphia, he scored his 21st goal and entered the game leading the National Hockey League.
Michael Del Zotto continued his rock solid play. He has 19 points this season and is near the top in +/- with +22. His play has lessened the need for a premature return of their top defensemen, Mark Staal. Staal hasn’t played since he took a hit from his own brother, Eric, last season against the Carolina Hurricanes. He is currently working his way back into game shape, but it will likely be an additional few weeks or months till he is NHL ready to contribute
The Isles are coming off a frustrating 5-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs wasted little time getting on the board as Clark MacArthur scored just 1:43 into the game. Under three minutes later Nazem Kadri scored at the tail end of a Toronto power play to give the Leafs a 2-0 lead at 4:22. Carl Gunnarson completed the Leafs trifecta in the first period at 11:15 with a slap shot from point for his first goal of the 2011-12 season. Kyle Okposo was able to bring the Isles within two on a semi breakaway at 15:45. For the second straight game an early second period power play brought the Isles within 3-2 just 40 seconds in; P.A Parenteau and Matt Moulson had assists.
Michael Grabner drew a penalty on Cody Franson to give the Isles a chance to tie the game. One bad bounce later, Joey Crabb snapped a shot past Evgeni Nabokov, shorthanded, to give the Leafs a commanding 4-2 advantage. John Tavares would cut the Leafs lead to 4-3 in the third period with 9:10 remaining in the game. Continuing to press for an equalizer a curious diving call on John Tavares turned a power play opportunity into a 4-on-4 late in the third period. The Isles were unable to find an equalizer and Joffrey Lupul, who cross-checked Tavares that led to the diving call, put the game on ice with an empty netter at 19:52. James Reimer had 30 saves to win his second game in as many nights.
Madison Square Garden hasn’t been a friendly building for the Islanders in recent trips. Thursday was their fifth consecutive loss at MSG. They have been outscored 24-7 during that streak. Scoring 1.4 goals a game against a high scoring offense isn’t giving any margin for error. The Isles will likely have a tough go scoring on Monday night as well. Henrik Lundqvist returns to the rivalry after sitting out Thursday night. His 22 career wins rank second for all active goaltenders against the Islanders. He did take the loss in the teams first meeting, but bounced back in their second meeting stealing the two points for the Rangers.
The game is still crucial for both clubs with both teams sitting at opposite ends of the standings.
After tonight, the Rangers go on the road for three games. The first is against their playoffs nemesis, the Washington Capitals on Wednesday. Friday they travel to play the Southeast Division leading Florida Panthers. They will likely get both teams best as the Caps try to move up the standings and into playoff position and the Panthers were thrashed by the Rangers at MSG earlier this month, 6-0. And of course ‘The we cant compete with the NFL so it’s not actually on New Years’ Winter Classic on Monday afternoon in Philadelphia. The cameras haven’t been a distraction before and points are crucial as three points separate 1st from 3rd in the Atlantic Division.
The Isles are in a much different spot. They need to start winning some games or 2012-13 will be here sooner than any fan would like. Two points against the Rangers will bring them to 30 points on the season. The next five games after the Rangers are winnable games. Calgary is a much different team at home then on the road. Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately the way this team plays at home, the game is not in Alberta. After a red-hot start, Ryan-Nugent Hopkins, Taylor Hall and the not Houston Oilers from Edmonton have went from 1st to worst in under a month. They come for their now yearly visit on New Years Eve on Ken Morrow Appreciation Night. Road games against the struggling Carolina Hurricanes and Anaheim Ducks will be must wins as both teams are having terrible seasons and opportunities like this need to be taken advantage of. The last game on the trip is against Phoenix. They play in a desolate arena and likely will have a pro Isles feel as there are a lot of transplanted New Yorkers in Arizona. The Coyotes may be without starting goalie Mike Smith for the game. He is currently listed day-to-day with the dreaded lower-body injury but he looked in a lot of pain when he left the game against the Florida Panthers.
Prediction and Last Word
Tonight is a great opportunity to go into the brief homestand with a big win against their fiercest rival. Evgeni Nabokov needs to bring his ‘A’ game to the Garden in order for the Isles’ to have any chance. Lundqvist is a great goalie but he plays to his career numbers against the Isles. The first 10 minutes are of utmost importance for the visitors. An early goal to take the crowd out of the game will help their chances immensely. Going down one or two goals early against a great team will not end well. I think they can steal the two points but I can’t be a homer when I truly have limited confidence in this team. Marian Gaborik scores two goals and the Rangers win 5-2.
My last word is: When will NHL Referees and Linesmen treat the Islanders with any respect?