The New York Rangers visit their crosstown rivals, the New York Islanders, Saturday night (7 p.m. ET, MSG, MSG Radio) in their first game in a week looking to get their first win of the season. With their first seven games on the road because of the renovation to Madison Square Garden, this is essentially a 'home' game for the Rangers since a good portion of Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum will be wearing red, white and blue.
The Islanders have won two straight games, the latest 5-1 thrashing of the Lightning, and are a young, hungry bunch. The Blueshirts won four of the six meetings between the two teams last season, though no game between these foes is easy or predictable, nor without its excitement.
The Islanders have two former Rangers prospects excelling in the early stages of this season -- goalie Al Montoya and forward P.A. Parenteau. Montoya has grabbed the starting goalie reins for the Islanders, having allowed four goals so far in three games, while Parenteau leads the team with four points, three of them assists, and is playing top-six-forward minutes.
In addition to Parenteau, the Isles boast a bevy of talented young players led by assistant captain John Tavares (who had a four-point night against the Bolts), Matt Moulson, Michael Grabner and Kyle Okposo. The team does have a weak defensive core, however, though captain Mark Streit is a very steady presence. The Rangers need to exploit this weakness by attacking from the get-go and working from within the offensive-zone faceoff dots.
With no games in seemingly forever, the Blueshirts couldn't ask for a better match up as these games between the hated teams are always filled with energy and chippiness. If the Rangers aren't ready to play in this one, some serious questions need to be asked.
Keys for the Blueshirts include staying out of the penalty box, which forced them to kill 11 penalties in the first two games, and improve their power play, which is 0-8 so far. It goes without saying that the Rangers black-and-blue style needs to be prominent in this one.
The Ranges will be playing this game with essentially three new faces on defense, as Marc Staal is out and Michael Sauer, with a shoulder injury, is also sitting. Along with Ryan McDonagh-Dan Girardi, young players Michael Del Zotto and Tim Erixon will be paired, while veterans Jeff Woywitka, making his Rangers' debut, and Steve Eminger will play together. It's not ideal, but it'll be a good test for all against the Isles run-and-gun offense. Just see the minutes each is receiving to see the trust level coach John Tortorella has in them.
Derek Stepan will also be closely watched as he gets a shot as the top-line left wing. He's kind of been miscast as a bottom-six guy early this year, but has the ability to jell with Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik. Tortorella will be rooting for this to work as it would allow him to keep the other successful lines from last year together.
Overall, this starts a constant flow of games for the Rangers (after a week of nothing), and with the other teams in the division starting off well, it would benefit them to keep pace.
-- See Blueshirt Banter for Rangers coverage
-- See Lighthouse Hockey for Islanders coverage