The Rangers (4-5-0, 8 pts) hope to stop their trend of inconsistent hockey Thursday night when they host the Islanders (4-4-1, 9 pts) at Madison Square Garden in the first meeting this season between these two New York rivals. Coming off an uneven performance in a 3-1 road defeat in New Jersey on Tuesday, the Rangers will seek to be more the team that played so well in all areas of the game in Saturday's 3-2 victory down in Tampa Bay. Meanwhile the Islanders come in with a sense of urgency, as well, looking to put the brakes on a two-game losing skid.
Rangers head coach John Tortorella has firmly sent the message the past two days that he is not happy with the play and effort of some of his players, and the players, in turn, have discussed their displeasure with the team's inconsistent nature both during games and from game-to-game. Unfortunately one consistent trend has been the slow starts which the Rangers have gotten off to on a regular basis. The latest example was Tuesday when, folllowing a failed early power play, the Rangers surrendered the game's first goal to the Devils just five minutes into the game. Before the first period ended the Blueshirts were in a 2-0 hole.
Part of the reason the Rangers have struggled with their starts, and have struggled in general stringing wins together, has been the play of their special teams. The Rangers are just 3-35 on the power play this saeson, and have scored just one power play goal in the past five games. And their penalty killing unit has allowed at least one goal against in eight consecutive games.
Both special teams units---not to mention the team's 5-on-5 play---could receive a major boost tonight if captain Ryan Callahan is able to return to the lineup. Callahan has missed the past three games due to a subluxed left shoulder, but he took part in a full contact practice on Wednesday and just might be healthy enough to play this evening. If Callahan does return, it will be interesting to see whom Tortorella takes out of the lineup what with rookies JT Miller and Chris Kreider, and veteran Darroll Powe, already having joined the lineup---and played well---Tuesday in New Jersey.
It would seem that all three would dress against the Islanders, especially after the head coach praised his rookies, in particular, for their play against the Devils. Miller logged nearly 15 minutes of ice-time in his NHL debut and was extremely "strong on the puck" throughout, according to Tortorella. And Kreider, who returned from a five-game absence due to an ankle injury, scored his first NHL regular-season goal Tuesday, and skated with much more jump and purpose with his nearly 11 minutes of ice-time.
The Islanders are coming off Tuesday's 4-2 loss at home to the Penguins, which came on the heels of a 3-0 home-ice defeat at the hands of Johan Hedberg and the Devils on Sunday. Though they have been held down offensively their past two games, the Islanders have proven to be an explosive offensive team this season, scoring four goals or better in all four of their victories, including a season-high seven against the Maple Leafs on January 24th. In addition, the Isles have played very well away from the Nassau Coliseum, posting a 3-1-1 road record to date.
While the Islanders talent base has grown significiantly over the past couple of years, in particular as some of its youngsters have gained NHL experience, the two players the Rangers need to be most aware of when they are out on the ice are John Tavares and Matt Moulson. That twosome, with likely veteran Brad Boyes completing the Isles No. 1 line, has tremendous chemistry and has given the Rangers---and many other NHL teams---fits the past three seasons. Moulson is a must to watch on the road, where he has scored all four of his goals this season and where 23 of his 36 goals a year ago were scored. And Tavares is once again among the league leaders in points with 11 through nine games, after recording 81 points in 82 games a year ago.
Evgeni Nabokov likely makes his ninth start of the season in goal for the Islanders tonight, while Henrik Lundqvist is expected to make his ninth start for the Blueshirts, who were 4-1-1 against the Isles last season, wining all three games played at Madison Square Garden.
Are you amped up for Round One of New York-New York hockey rivalry tonight? Let us know your thoughts and predictions below.