The New York Islanders visit Madison Square Garden for the first time this season looking to win their third straight game and their second over the local rivals (1-1-0 so far this season), the New York Rangers. The Blueshirts also have a mini two-game streak going on and seem to have found their legs again after a few subpar offensive performances. Yet again in 2011-12, the Isles are a team floundering in the standings with 28 points, while the Rangers are on the upswing with 42. But a tilt between these two clubs rarely is influenced by their places in the standings, and Thursday's matchup should be a perfect example of that (7:00 p.m. EST, MSG). The Isles love to play the "upset" role against the Rangers, even if the midpoint of the season has not been reached.
There hasn't been a lot of winning going on in the Island this season (11-14-6). The Isles have taken a step forward this month, however, with four wins (two in shootouts) and points in six of nine games during December. That's a step in the right direction for a club just two points off the mark for the worst record in the Eastern Conference. John Tavares leads the team with 26 points, while Matt Moulson has the team-high in goals with 15 (25 points), and former Ranger P.A. Parenteau has 25 points as well. The isles' problem is deeply rooted and makes it tough to expect legitimate improvement unless they make widespread changes as they aren't scoring enough goals (second-to-last in the NHL with 2.26 per game) and are giving up the seventh-most (3.13 per game). As a result, they have a negative-27 goal differential.
On the other hand, the Rangers rank third best in preventing goals (2.10 per game) as their defense has been stingy and their goaltending top-notch, and they are 10th in the league in goal scoring with 2.90 per game led by Marian Gaborik's 19 goals and 30 points. Brad Richards (26), Derek Stepan (24), Ryan Callahan (23) and Artem Anisimov (21) all have more than 20 points, compared with the Isles who have just three guys.
The Blueshirts play best against the Islanders when they use their energy to their to keep a high pace, but don't let the heat of the game get in the way and give the Isles power-play chances. The Isles will look to antagonize and throw the Rangers off their game, that's for sure.