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Pregame: Rangers Vs. Islanders, Once More into the Coliseum

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Time for some early playoff hockey?

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Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Buy Rangers Tickets!Rangers vs Islanders coverage | Lighthouse Hockey

I'm guessing that I'm not the only one who had this date circled on their calendar. Tonight the New York Rangers play their third straight game on the road and the team that they're visiting is John TavaresNew York Islanders in what will be the Blueshirts last regular season game in Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. There is, of course, the chance that these two hockey clubs could meet in the playoffs and once again play hockey in Uniondale, but for now this is the last paragraph in a chapter of one of the hockey's most outstanding rivalries.

If you're a hockey fan of either of these teams you already know full well just how significant this game is in regards to the Metropolitan Division standings and the Eastern Conference standings. A regulation win for either team would be a huge four point swing that could either give the Rangers an even bigger edge in claiming the top of the division with their four games in hand over the Isles, or blunt their chances to overtake them during their long road trip that ends on the 15th against the Panthers. As we stand right now, the Rangers have won the most recent game in the series, a 6-5 goal-fest, but have already lost the season series because of the Isles' dominance over the Blueshirts in their earlier meetings this season. Coming into tonight's game the season series is (from the Rangers perspective) 1-3-0.

People will assign a lot more to the outcome of this game than which team wins and which team loses, and that is absolutely understandable. These "battle of New York" games always feel like they matter more, even when one or both of the teams is irrelevant in any given season. This time around it just so happens that both teams are playing outstanding hockey, although the Rangers have been undoubtedly been the better team over the last ten games, and seem destined to make an impact in the 2015 Playoffs. The truth is that tonight's game does mean a lot more than a regular season victory because of the history of these two clubs, the battles they have had this season, and what a win would mean for either team in their tooth-and-nail fight to get on top of the division. Tonight's game should be intense and a big test for both clubs. This will be the first time the Islanders have seen the Rangers since the blockbuster deal that brought Keith Yandle to New York and dramatically changed the Blueshirt's potential for offensive from the blue line and on the power play.

Let's take a look at some notes and bits of news regarding tonight's game.

Points leaders for the guys in orange, blue, and white:

  • John Tavares 33 G, 39 A
  • Kyle Okposo 14 G, 30 A
  • Ryan Strome 14 G, 28 A

Okposo Returns

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Isles announce that Kyle Okposo will return to lineup tonight vs. NYR. Playing for 1st time since undergoing eye surgery for detached retina</p>&mdash; Katie Strang (@KatieStrangESPN) <a href="https://twitter.com/KatieStrangESPN/status/575312059468017664">March 10, 2015</a></blockquote>
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Okposo makes the Islanders a better team and is, without question, the forward that best clicks with superstar John Tavares. Getting Okposo back is a huge deal for the Islanders. The fact that he is is still in second place on the team in points despite missing 22 games should tell you all you need to know about his value to the Isles' top line. As much as I might wish he wasn't returning tonight, I can't express just how relieved I am to see Okposo poised to return to hockey after his eye injury. Welcome back, Kyle.

Leddy a Game Time Decision

Nick Leddy was banged up and left the Islander's game against the Leafs last night after a collision with Morgan Rielly. If Leddy doesn't dress for the Islanders it will be exceedingly good news for the Rangers ability to create scoring chances and keep the puck in the offensive zone.

Halak and Talbot

Jaroslav Halak is the confirmed starter for the Islanders tonight and it is a safe bet that the Rangers will be playing Cam Talbot tonight after he shut out the Blackhawks on Sunday night. Mackenzie Skapski could take the crease for the Rangers either tonight or tomorrow night (the Rangers play the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night), but my gut tells me that Vigneault is going to go with Talbot tonight and, depending on how things go, could go with him again tomorrow night and save Skapski for the Sabres on the 14th in the first game of another back-to-back for the Rangers. In the four games against the Rangers this season the Islanders have scored 18 goals on the Rangers. The Rangers defense and goaltending simply has to be better tonight on Long Island if they want to end this season series at 2-3-0 and pick up two gigantic points on the road.

New Isles to Hate Know

The Islanders dealt former Ranger Chad Johnson and a conditional pick to acquire Michal Neuvirth and seriously improve their goaltending depth. They also acquired Tyler Kennedy from the San Jose Sharks for a conditional pick, although it is uncertain where Kennedy will play with Okposo's return. Tavares has recently been centering Josh Bailey and Kennedy but I doubt that the Islanders won't put Okposo back with Tavares.

Glass is Back

#$@*. The Rangers will likely be scratching James Sheppard, who has been pretty darn good since the Blueshirts picked him up on deadline day, and returning Tanner Glass to the lineup for tonight's game. Why? I wish I knew my friends, I wish I knew. Sheppard has been everything I was hoping he would be and more, and his most valuable trait was that he was keeping Glass out of the lineup. I can't believe how quickly Vigneault is going back to his enforcer in a game that matters as much as this one.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-conversation="none" lang="en"><p>NYR GF% with Tanner Glass at even strength is 30% RT <a href="https://twitter.com/SteveBurtch">@SteveBurtch</a> Median GF% with your goalie pulled this year in the NHL is 27.5%.</p>&mdash; Adam Herman (@AdamHerman_BSB) <a href="https://twitter.com/AdamHerman_BSB/status/575004706709368832">March 9, 2015</a></blockquote>
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<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>In other words, half the NHL performs better with an empty net than NYR do with Tanner Glass. You can&#39;t make this up.</p>&mdash; Adam Herman (@AdamHerman_BSB) <a href="https://twitter.com/AdamHerman_BSB/status/575004990806355968">March 9, 2015</a></blockquote>
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... but we want to win NOW, right? Right? The Rangers must once again be under the assumption that the counter to the Islanders' forechecking and strong, physical play along the boards is to play someone who is among the very worst skaters in the league according to the human eye and metrics of all kinds.

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The puck drops for tonight's game at ~7:00 PM. You can catch tonight's game on the following television stations; NHLN-US, TVA Sports, SN1, SNO, MSG 2, MSG+.

Enjoy tonight's game.

Let's go Rangers.