This is a text exchange between me and my friend yesterday (he is an Islanders fan):
Paulie: Tomorrow's game should be a good one. Rangers have sneakily been beating everyone they've been up against lately.
Me: And yet they haven't moved up in the standings.
Paulie: Product of the Metro this year.
Go back even as little as last year and this simply wasn't the case. The Metro had a couple of very good teams and then a slew of very, very bad teams. This year? The top is loaded while the bottom is equally loaded (just loaded in a bad way). The result is a bitter fight for the top three automatic seeds in the Metro despite the basement being filled with some of the worst teams in the league.
The Rangers are on one of the hottest streaks in the organization's history, winning 12 of their last 13 including five in a row and a very impressive three-game Western Conference sweep. And yet, the Rangers haven't really moved up in the standings at all. Actually, as of today, the Rangers are in the first wild card spot, overtaken by Washington last night with a 2-1 win over Colorado.
Now, the Rangers have multiple games in hand over every team ahead of them, and the Rangers boast an impressive 22 ROW to their 24 wins (in 39 games). Still, you need to win those games in hand for them to mean anything, which is why tonight's tilt is so important.
The Islanders currently reside on the Metropolitan Throne, with 57 points in 42 games. The Rangers are five points back with three games in hand, which helps make tonight a "four-point game" that can swing the momentum of the conference.
Outside of the playoff indications (which are somewhat premature since the Rangers aren't even at the halfway mark yet) this game will be another fantastic litmus test for the Rangers. The Islanders are a very good hockey team, and their current position in the standings speaks to that, since the Rangers' current run hasn't earned them much in terms of positioning.
On this run the Rangers have stayed true to their identity despite opportunities to drift (mainly being down 2-0 early in LA) and have reaped the success of transitioning the puck to their speedy wingers. The defense has figured out its early-season issues, and Henrik Lundqvist and Cam Talbot have expectedly put their early-season struggles behind them as well.
Add in a suddenly successful power play and you have a really dangerous team. Of course, the Islanders have been pretty dangerous all year, so the matchup should be interesting.
One way or another this game is going to swing the dynamic of the Metro. It's early of course, but it's always nice to beat the Islanders no matter what month the game falls.
The points meaning so much to each side just make it even better.