The New York Rangers enter tTuesday night's game against the New York Islanders on the road (7 p.m. EST, MSG/MSG+) riding the high of a six-game winning streak and a 9-2-1 stretch. The floundering Islanders (4-7-3) are in the midst of a 10-game stretch in which they've won one time and as a result find themselves in last place in the Eastern Conference. When these two teams face off, though, it never matters -- emotions run high, tensions flare and sometimes a semblance of structured hockey goes out the window.
Granted, the Isles have won all four of their games this season at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum (and defeated the Rangers 4-2 earlier in the season), but they're still a team with a thin defense outside of captain Mark Streit, who ranks third on the team with 10 points, and an offense that has potential, but is young and mostly unproven. John Tavares leads the team with 14 points, while former Ranger P.A. Parenteau has 12, but the Islanders are in a rut because they rank 29th in goals for and 23rd in goals against. They'll attempt to get a jolt on the offensive end with the season debut of 19-year-old forward Nino Niederreiter, who didn't make the team out of camp because of a groin injury. In nine games last year with the big team, he had a goal and an assist, with eight penalty minutes. The raw winger has the makings to blend a nice scoring touch with some physicality (he's 6-foot-2, 205 pounds)
Currently, the Isles are also rolling out a three-headed rotation at goalie, and there's a chance the Blueshirts (9-3-3) could see their former prospect, Al Montoya, oppose them.
While the Isles are a team that's in a bit of disarray, the Blueshirts are focused and all their pieces appear to be fitting into place. On the strength of superb goaltending and an improving defense, the Rangers rank best in terms of goals given up per game, with 2. They've also improved their goals-for marks and are 13th.
The Rangers boast a team with three scoring lines and a fourth line that isn't to be taken lightly, no matter who's slated to play there. Marian Gaborik leads the team with nine goals and 15 points, while Brad Richards ranks second, with 12. Yet Gaborik has taken off because of the play of two young Rangers, Derek Stepan and Artem Anisimov, and not because of the best playmaker on the roster. Stepen is a plus-7 over his past five games, with seven points, while the Anisimov is a plus-5 with six points. This trio has been splendid the past few games.
Coach John Tortorella currently -- for how long is up for debate -- has his prized center playing with Sean Avery and Ruslan Fedotenko -- two guys who would probably come close to last if you had to guess linemates for the No.1 center on your team. Avery had his best game of the year against the Hurricanes, scoring a goal but showing strong skating ability, drawing two penalties and playing a focused game, so he's been rewarded with a bump up in lines. And Fedotenko goes about his business -- game after game -- being steady and effective, but not flashy on both sides of the ice.
This is a game that will not be without its entertainment value. And, frankly, it might be one won by the team that can stick to the gameplan and not let the emotions get in the way.