Rangers vs Islanders: Keys to the Game

Hearing the words "first place" before "New York Rangers" never gets old, and with a win tonight, the phrase "first place" will take on a whole new meaning for the Blueshirts. At the moment, the Rangers lead the Atlantic Division with a 21-8-4 record, but are second to the Boston Bruins (23-9-1) in the Eastern Conference. With the Bruins not in action tonight, the Rangers can surpass the B's for first place in the East if they find a way to earn two points out of the Isles. For obvious reasons, this isn't a predicament the Rangers mind being in the middle of at all.

The Defense: The most impressive part of the Rangers' game as of late, at least in my opinion, has been their defense. As I discussed in this morning's article, the Rangers are without four of their top seven defensemen, yet have still been lights out in their own zone against some of the NHL's better teams. The jobs that call-ups Stu Bickel and Tim Erixon have done are amazing, especially Bickel, who picked up another two points in Friday's win over Philly.

And credit to Michael Del Zotto as well, because he's really turned his game around nicely after a rocky start to the season. On both sides of the puck, Michael has been playing smarter hockey, and that's will keep him in the lineup long-term.

Islanders in a Rut: As for the Islanders, they dropped back-to-back games last Thursday and Friday, with the second being a 5-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs at Nassau Coliseum. At this point, the Rangers are probably the last team the Islanders want to be facing right now since each of their last two losses to their rivals have been extremely frustrating for them, and frustration is not what they want to be dealing with after a poorly-officiated outing on Friday.

I think my buddy, who's an Islander fan, spoke on behalf of the team and their fans the other night when saying this to me: "We really have to [expletive] play you guys again?"

Rangers Love Rivalry Games: On the Rangers' side of things, they couldn't be happier with the match-up. As we saw last week in a divisional-packed schedule, John Tortorella's squad absolutely loves playing in rivalry games and, for the most part, they have a very solid record when doing so this year. I give some credit to the coach for always making sure his team is alive and ready for these games, and a little extra push or urgency for the Rangers tonight may be exactly what they need to take over first in the East.

Official Game Notes After the Jump....

Tonight's Game

The Rangers face-off against the New York Islanders tonight at Madison Square Garden (7:00 p.m.), in their fourth consecutive game against an Atlantic Division opponent. The Blueshirts currently rank first in the Atlantic Division standings, and second in the Eastern Conference, with a record of 21-8-4 (46 pts). The Rangers enter the contest having defeated the Philadelphia Flyers, 4-2, on Friday at Madison Square Garden to extend their winning streak to four games, and are 6-2-0 in their last eight. The Blueshirts have now registered at least one point in 20 of their last 25 games (18-5-2). The Islanders enter the contest with an 11-16-6 (28 pts) record to rank 14th in the Eastern Conference, and have lost six of their last eight games. Following tonight's contest, the Rangers will face-off against the Washington Capitals on Wednesday, Dec. 28, at Verizon Center (7:30 p.m.), to begin a two-game Southeast road trip.

Tune In Tonight!
Tonight's game will be televised on MSG Network with pregame coverage beginning at 6:30 p.m. You can also catch the radio broadcast on 1050 ESPN Radio and on satellite radio at XM 213.

* The Rangers are tied for 11th with a 10-3-2 (22 pts) record at home; the Islanders rank 25th with a 5-7-3 (13 pts) mark on the road.

* The Rangers have posted a 6-1-0 record vs. Atlantic Division opponents; the Islanders are 2-6-2 vs. the Atlantic Division.

* Henrik Lundqvist has posted a 22-11-5 record with a 2.22 GAA and three shutouts in 39 career regular season contests vs. the Islanders; Martin Biron is 21-4-1-0 with a 2.00 GAA and two shutouts in 27 career regular season games vs. the Islanders.

* Brad Richards leads the Rangers with 19 assists and 30 points in 33 career regular season contests vs. the Islanders; Marian Gaborik has tallied a team-high 16 goals (28 points) in 24 games vs. the Islanders.

* The Rangers list two former Islanders on their roster: Martin Biron (2009-10); Ruslan Fedotenko (2007-08).

* The Islanders list two former Rangers on their roster: Mike Mottau (2000-01 - 2001-02); P.A. Parenteau (2009-10).

All Time - Rangers vs. Islanders
Overall: 114-99-19-5
At MSG: 66-37-11-4
At Uniondale: 48-62-8-1

2011-12 Rangers vs. Islanders
Oct. 15 Rangers 2, Islanders 4 at Uniondale
Nov. 15 Rangers 4, Islanders 2 at Uniondale
Dec. 22 Rangers 4, Islanders 2 MSG
Dec. 26 Rangers vs. Islanders at MSG
Feb. 24 Rangers vs. Islanders at Uniondale
March 11 Rangers vs. Islanders at MSG

Upcoming Regular-Season Schedule
Dec. 26 Rangers vs. Islanders, 7 p.m.
Dec. 28 Rangers at Washington, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 30 Rangers at Florida, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 2 Rangers at Philadelphia in NHL Winter Classic, 1 p.m.
Jan. 5 Rangers vs. Florida, 7 p.m.

Injuries

* Marc Staal has missed 33 games after being put on the Injured Reserve list on Oct. 5 due to a concussion.

* Wojtek Wolski has missed 22 games due to a groin injury, suffered on Nov. 3.

* Michael Sauer has missed nine games due to a concussion, suffered on Dec. 5.

* Steve Eminger has missed three games with a shoulder injury, suffered on Dec. 17.

* Jeff Woywitka has missed three games with an ankle injury, suffered on Dec. 17.

* The Rangers have lost 102 total man-games to injuries or illness this season.

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