The Rangers (11-8-2, 24 pts) skate into the Nassau Coliseum Thursday night a bruised and battered squad, yet one that is also seeking its season-high fourth straight win when it faces off with an improving Islanders (10-11-2, 22 pts) team. It will be an important contest for both teams as the Isles are just two points behind the Rangers for eighth place in the Eastern Conference, and are looking to win a third consecutive game for the first time this season as they play the sixth game of their current seven-game homestand.
The Blueshirts just finished off a season-hight four-game homestand of their own with an impressive 4-2 victory over the Flyers on Tuesday night---one that featured two goals apiece from Rick Nash and Ryan Callahan. But the Rangers---already playing without the injured Brad Richards, who was hurt when checked from behind into the boards Sunday night by Buffalo's Patrick Kaleta---lost the services of defenseman Marc Staal 5:45 into the third period when a puck deflected up into his face. Though the exact nature of his injury is not known, a pair of eye doctors who examined Staal said Wednesday they are optimistic his eye will completely heal. However Staal---in the midst of a standout two-way season---is listed as out indefinitely, and will not face the Islanders after his frightening injury.
To bolster their depth at the defense position the Rangers claimed veteran Roman Hamrlik off waivers from the Capitals on Wednesday. The 38 year-old is expected to make his Blueshirts debut this evening, against an Islanders team he spent four years with at the start of this century. While he will play an important role with the Rangers, the major dose of heavy lifting with Staal out of the lineup will be done by Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh---the same pair who helped the Rangers weather Staal's concussion absence last season. That twosome will see a lot of Isles star John Tavares tonight. The 22 year-old ranks third in the NHL with 14 goals and seventh with 27 points entering play this evening.
Whether or not Richards will be able to play is in question. He took part in Tuesday's morning skate, but then failed to play that evening against Buffalo. And since the Rangers did not practice Wednesday there was no update available regarding Richards' status.
Former Islander Micheal Haley made his Rangers debut against the Sabres, taking Richards' spot in the lineup. The rugged winger logged under five minutes of ice time, but did gain credit for three hits and played a smart responsible game. Needless to say his presence would spur the emotions of the Islanders fans should he dress tonight at the Coliseum considering his popularity when he played for the Isles. It has already been speculated that the Islanders would dress tough guy Eric Boulton instead of David Ullstrom should Haley be in the Rangers lineup.
As for the Islanders they have won two straight for the fifth time this season. However they will be trying to earn their third consecutive win for the first time and reach the .500 mark on the season. The Isles are coming off a 6-3 victory over the Canadiens on Tuesday and a 3-2 shootout win over the Ottawa Senators two days prior, meaning they have defeated two of the top---and hottest---teams in the Eastern Conference in succession.
Their games rarely are dull affairs as the Islanders have the capability to score often, while also struggle enough in their own end that they quite often give up a slew of goals---with both things happening in the same game on many an occasion. The Islanders have scored four or more goals 11 times this season, and have also surrendered four or more in 11 games. Tied for seventh in goal scoring this year, the Isles also own the second-worst goals against average in the NHL at 3.39.
Tonight marks the third meeting this season between these two local New York rivals, and the first on Long Island. The Rangers hammered the Islanders 4-1 at The Garden back on February 7th before being handed a 4-3 shootout defeat---after blowing a quick early lead---a week later.
Games on the Island often get out of hand for the Rangers, so how do you think they will fare on Thursday? Share your predictions below.