The New York Rangers will face the New York Islanders for the first time this season tonight at the new home venue for the Islanders, UBS Arena. The Rangers are coming off a thrilling win against the Buffalo Sabres in which defenseman Ryan Lindgren netted the game-winning goal with less than one second remaining in regulation, improving the Blueshirts record to 11-4-3. The Islanders have struggled so far during the first month of the season with a record of 5-8-2, are in last place in the Metropolitan Division and the midst of a six-game losing streak. However, expect the rivalry to remain intense during tonight’s game regardless of where both teams are currently in the standings. Let’s take a look at some storylines for both clubs ahead of this evening’s game.
3 Storylines: New York Islanders (5-8-2)
Islanders Season Disrupted by COVID Outbreak
Contributing to the slow start and multi-game losing streak for the Islanders has been a COVID-19 outbreak amongst the roster. Josh Bailey, Anders Lee, Ross Johnston, Andy Greene, Adam Pelech, Kieffer Bellows and Zdeno Chara are in COVID-19 protocol. Anthony Beauviller was in protocol and missed last Saturday’s matchup against the Calgary Flames. He had a false positive test and rejoined the team for Sunday’s game versus the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Losing several players begins to take its toll on a team as more players with a lack of experience are asked to take on bigger roles in the lineup and are outmatched by the opposition. The Islanders will need to persevere and dig themselves out of last place sooner rather than later to avoid falling too far behind the rest of the teams they are competing against in the Metropolitan Division. The organization, in addition to all of the NHL teams, needs to continue to be as vigilant as possible in hoping COVID-19 does not affect the team more than it has.
Injuries To Key Players Hurts Islanders
In addition to the COVID outbreak, the Islanders will be without defenseman Ryan Pulock for four to six weeks with a lower-body injury. Forward Brock Nelson will be out two to four weeks with a lower-body injury as well. The former is one of, if not the top defensemen, for the organization while the latter is the leader in goals and points with nine and eleven, respectively. Pulock was injured during the game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Nov. 15, and Nelson suffered his injury last Sunday against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Head coach Barry Trotz has switched the line combinations to create a spark for the offense. However, looking to establish continuity quickly with players who are making up for the loss of the best defenseman, leading goal-scorer, and the players who are in COVID protocol is a lot to ask for. However, all teams need to deal with injuries and unexpected COVID outbreaks. With a Stanley Cup championship on his resume, the experienced, accomplished coach knows how to get the best out of his players.
Islanders Lack Scoring
Aside from injuries and a COVID outbreak, the Islanders are having difficulty scoring, as they rank 31st in the league and last in the Eastern Conference averaging 2.07 goals for per game played (GF/GP). The team has played one game this month, back on Nov. 4, where they scored more than two goals. Out of the seven games where the Islanders totaled only two goals, the team won one of those games.
The lack of goal scoring translates to a low percentage on the power play. The Islanders rank 30th in the league and 15th in the Eastern Conference with a 12.2% conversion rate. Nelson and forward Oliver Wahlstrom each have two power-play goals and Beauvillier has scored once on the man advantage.
3 Storylines: New York Rangers (11-4-3)
Uncertainty At the Backup Goaltender Position
Alexandar Georgiev, the backup goalie for the Rangers, has struggled this season. He received the opening night start for the team against the Washington Capitals, did not play well and has not been a reliable backup throughout the year. In his most recent start last Sunday against the Sabres, he allowed four goals on 18 shots before being pulled for starter Igor Shesterkin.
Georgiev has played in six games, started five of them and has a record of 2-1-1. His goals-against average (GAA) is 4.08 and his save percentage (SV%) is .858. It remains to be seen if the Rangers will acquire a backup via trade or promote one of the goaltenders of the Hartford Wolf Pack in the American Hockey League (AHL). Keith Kinkaid has played previously as the backup with the Rangers. Another option that could be called up is Adam Huska. He is waiver exempt which would prevent another team from claiming him on waivers, unlike Georgiev if he is sent down to the Wolf Pack or Kinkaid if he is called up.
Finding a Player To Replace Blais on the Top Line
Head coach Gerard Gallant has been looking for a long-term solution to replace forward Sammy Blais, who suffered a torn anterior crucial ligament (ACL) in a previous game against the New Jersey Devils and will be out for the rest of the 2021-22 season. Forward Barclay Goodrow was placed on the top line, but the Rangers head coach decided to move him to center the fourth line. The head coach moved forward Dryden Hunt to the right wing position on the first line with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider during the game versus the Sabres.
Hunt found some success with Zibanejad and Kreider as he nearly missed a scoring opportunity after being moved to the top line. Goodrow played well on the fourth line with forward Ryan Reaves once he was moved there by Gallant. “I don’t know what we’re going to do next game, but I definitely like it. The coaches have talked about it. Huntsie has been a good player for us right from the get-go. He’s played different roles. He’s played on the fourth line in a little bit of a different role, but I like what he brings. He’s got some offensive touch and he can really shoot a puck. It could be a possibility, for sure,” (from ‘Gerard Gallant sparks Rangers with Dryden Hunt lineup tweak,’ New York Post, 11/22/2021).
Familiar Foes on the Schedule
The Rangers play the Islanders in two of their next three games in addition to an Original Six game against the Boston Bruins on Friday afternoon. The Blueshirts begin the month of December against the Philadelphia Flyers to rekindle the “Broadway versus Broad Street” rivalry. The Rangers played the Devils on Nov. 14 and defeated them in a shootout, 4-3.
The Blueshirts are 3-1 against the other teams in the Metropolitan Division in the games they have played versus their rivals. The games are usually intense, competitive and more chippy than games against non-divisional teams. The Rangers will look to continue their momentum against divisional teams since losing their opening night game to the Capitals.
The Rangers-Islanders rivalry has been one of the better competitions in the NHL since the Islanders debuted in the 1972-73 season. No matter what their records are, the franchises always bring their A-games to establish what team is superior in New York. Despite having injuries and players in COVID protocol, look for the Islanders to remain motivated to give the Rangers their best effort to defeat their arch rival.
Matt covers the New York Rangers, contributes Rangers Weekly and Rangers Daily Download pieces and has previously contributed content including news and rumors articles about the Philadelphia Flyers and the Pittsburgh Penguins for The Hockey Writers. To see more of Matt’s writing, visit his portfolio. For interview and podcast requests, follow Matt on Twitter that appears at the end of his articles.