The New York Rangers will continue on with rivalry week this evening when they host the New York Islanders at Madison Square Garden for the first time this season. The previous two matches between these teams, which were played in October and November, both took place at Nassau Coliseum. So far the series is split, with the Islanders taking the first match-up and Brad Richards' late third period goal clinching a win for the Rangers in their most recent meeting with the Isles.
John Tortorella's team enters this game having won their previous two games against the Phoenix Coyotes and New Jersey Devils. That has them in fourth place in the Eastern Conference with a 19-8-4 record in 31 games played this season. Tonight's game will be the first of a back-to-back for the Blueshirts, as they will be right back at it on Friday against the Philadelphia Flyers before the holiday break coming up this weekend.
The Islanders, meanwhile, have also won their last two games, both in a shootout. They've also went 5-1-1 on the road in their last seven games, but at the same time, haven't beat the Rangers at MSG in four straight games. The Isles, though, have been playing better hockey as of late and should put up a fight tonight under the bright Broadway lights. They are always going to come hard, and that's something that the Rangers will be expecting.
Goaltender Al Montoya suffered a concussion in the team's last game, so Evgeny Nabakov will get his third straight start against the Rangers tonight.
For the Rangers, this is just another one of those games in which they will be in extremely good shape if they dictate the pace. They will be the more rested team since the Islanders had to travel back from Winnipeg on Tuesday and they will obviously have the home crowd to their advantage as well. There is no reason why the Blueshirts should not be able to come out and take control of this game from the start - after all, they are the better team.
My fear, though, is that they may be looking past this game and looking forward to when the Flyers come in tomorrow. If that's the case, which I hope it's not, then this will be an uphill battle all game long because you know the Islanders always have games against the Rangers circled on the calendar.
This may sound random, but in the first two meetings between the Isles and Rangers, there were plenty of penalties to go around, so special teams is going to be crucial tonight. The Blueshirts have been better on the powerplay as of late thanks to Marian Gaborik and friends, but they need to continue that tonight. Both times versing the Isles this year I remember the Rangers blowing far too many opportunities with the man advantage, so if they can convert on those tonight, they may be able to bury this one quick.
With the Flyers on hand for tomorrow, Marty Biron will be in net for the Rangers while Henrik Lundqvist gets the night off. Also, Jeff Woywitka will not be able to play tonight so Tim Erixon remains in the lineup on defense.
New York Rangers Lineup