Don't consider Friday night's game (7:00 p.m., MSG) between the New York Rangers and New York Islanders a meaningless one because the Rangers are 13 points ahead. In a way, it could be a season-defining one for both teams, but in very different ways.
The Blueshirts have taken the NHL by storm this year, with 81 points, leading the Eastern Conference. They've come together quicker than anyone could have imagined and their play has them thinking of a deep run in the playoffs. But, they've been shut out three times over their last 10 games and do not have a regulation win over a three-game spurt for the first time since the first three games of the season. General manager Glen Sather is likely to be active come the Feb. 27 trade deadline, but how active and how much of an impact player he signs will be heavily influenced by New York's play Friday against the Islanders and Satuarday versus the Buffalo Sabres. If the Rangers slump, does he go hard after Rick Nash? If they play well, does he go for more of a rental-type addition?
The Islanders, on the other hand, are eight points out of a playoff spot. That may seem like a significant hurdle, but with 22 games to play and a bottom-half of an Eastern Conference that has struggled to separate themselves, they do have a chance to make a run. If they want to look like a serious threat, they'll need a good showing versus their rivals.
Typically, when these teams play, it rarely matters where you're located in the standings. It brings out the best (and worst) of each. They're emotional and often the Rangers get away what makes them so successful. It will be interesting to see whether their season-long maturity will be shown against the Isles, or whether the Islanders will get under their skin a bit. The Blueshirts need to continue to pound the puck underneath the hashmarks and cycle to expose some very shoddy Islanders defense.
The Rangers are 3-1-0 versus the Islanders this season and 19-8-3 on the road. The Islanders are 13-14-5 at home and led by John Tavares, who has 58 points, Matt Moulson (25 goals, 50 points) and P.A. Parenteau, who has 54 points. The Rangers certainly have a more well rounded offense and can roll four lines out and not see them as liabilities. Marian Gaborik leads the way with 27 goals and 50 points.