Coming off their much-anticipated, yet disappointing, home opener Monday at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers (3-7-0, 6 pts) are right back at it on Tuesday night when they skate against the Islanders (4-4-3, 11 pts) at the Nassau Coliseum. After playing nine straight games on the road to start the season, the Rangers will be playing five of six at The Garden--with that lone road contest coming against their arch rivals from Long Island. Head coach Alain Vigneault stated on Monday that his expectations are for his team to play well on the road, and to win on the road, something they did in three of their first nine contests away from MSG to kick off the 2013-14 campaign.
Upon finally arriving back home the Rangers put forth yet another in a growing list of solid defensive efforts Monday night, but could not generate enough offense, falling to the Montreal Canadiens 2-0. The Rangers, who have lost three of their last four games overall, have been shut out three times in the first ten games of the season. The team has scored the fewest goals---15---in the National Hockey League, and have been held to two or fewer in seven of ten contests.
Vigneault pointed out postgame Monday that his team is doing a lot of the right things in the offensive zone---cycling, getting to the net, creating some prime opportunities---and he is happier with the group's overall effort. However he once again lamented the team's lack of finish. Players like Brian Boyle, J.T. Miller, and Chris Kreider also pointed out how they need to bear down and score some goals after being denied on Grade A chances against the Canadiens. Those three also happen to be among the best players the Rangers have had over the past few games---Kreider in particular standing out with his play in all three zones, his improved physical play, and how he is using his speed and size to generate scoring opportunities. Now he---and others---just need to finish.
The entire lineup will receive a boost Tuesday with the expected return to action of Carl Hagelin. The speedy Swedish winger has yet to play this season following off-season shoulder surgery, and is finally eligible to come off the LTIR. That seems a likely move as Hagelin has been practicing with his teammates for weeks now without incident, and the team assigned rookie winger Jesper Fast to the Hartford Wolf Pack following Monday's loss, likely signaling the return of Hagelin.
As Vigneault pointed out Monday, Hagelin's speed and consistently aggressive chasing of the puck will add key dimensions to the Rangers game. When he is at his best Hagelin energizes the entire lineup around him, and that is a boost the team clearly could use right now.
Henrik Lundqvist was solid between the pipes against the Canadiens, playing for the first time in nine days due to an undisclosed injury. Lundqvist made 25 saves, and looked smoother in his movements, as he did his best to keep the Blueshirts in the game. Vigneault said he had decided on whether or not Lundqvist would start back-to-back Tuesday night or if Cam Talbot would get the call, but would not inform the media Monday night of his decision.
The Islanders made the playoffs for the first time in five years last season---and even threw a scare into the Pittsburgh Penguins before succumbing in six games in the first round---and clearly management believes this team is ready to take the next step. On Sunday the Islanders acquired two-time 40-goal scorer Thomas Vanek from Buffalo in exchange for high-scoring forward Matt Moulson, a first round pick in 2014, and a second round selection in the 2015 NHL Draft. Such a bold move shows that the Islanders see themselves as legitimate contenders, and the days of mining the bargain bins and counting on high first-round draft picks to develop are a thing of the past.
Vanek will add to a high-powered Islanders offense, one that features the league's second-ranked power play (27.8 percent). He likely will team with John Tavares, a Hart Trophy finalist a year ago, who at age 23 is in his first season as Isles captain and who already has 13 points (4-9-13) in 11 games this season, including a current ten-game point streak. Tavares is one of three Islanders averaging more than a point per game, joining rising star Frans Neilsen (7-8-15) and Kyle Okposo (4-8-12), who began to come into his own last spring during the playoffs. Entering play Tuesday the Islanders have the eighth most productive offense in the NHL, averaging more than three goals per game.
Where the Isles run into trouble---and the main reason why they were jettisoned in the first round by the Penguins last spring---is keeping the puck out of their own net. The Isles are surrendering 3.09 goals per game---allowing 36 goals through 11 games---a big reason why the team only has a 4-4-3 record depsite having scored 35 goals. No. 1 netminder Evgeni Nabokov has a .908 save percentage and 2.82 goals against average, while his backup Kevin Poulin is 0-2 in a pair of starts, allowing seven goals on 59 shots.
After Tuesday's contest on Long Island, the Rangers return to The Garden for a four-game homestand which begins Thursday night---Halloween---against the Buffalo Sabres.