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What to Expect in This Season’s First Battle of New York: Rangers vs. Islanders

Evaluating each team’s journey from their last regular season game to tonight’s

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NHL: OCT 09 Rangers at Islanders
BRIDGEPORT, CT - OCTOBER 09: New York Islanders Goalie Ilya Sorokin (30) pokes the puck out of the crease during overtime in the National Hockey League Preseason game between the New York Rangers and the New York Islanders on October 9, 2021 at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, CT.
Photo by Joshua Sarner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

So here we are at last—a mere 207 days since the two teams have seen each other in a regular season contest—the New York Rangers are finally facing off against the New York Islanders once again. This is one of two games against their rival in the next five days, and then the Islanders will disappear off their radar until April of 2022.

This game is supposed to be an important litmus test for the Blueshirts. Per several Rangers beat writers, it was the thrashing that the Rangers endured from the Islanders two games in a row in late spring of this year that really started to move the needle for Dolan in his decision to shake up the team’s front office. However, as they often do, variables have worked their way into this scenario. Before we get into that, let’s take a look at what has transpired since these two teams met that warm May evening.

It may have only been 207 days, but A LOT has changed for the Rangers. They fired their General Manager and President, dismissed and replaced almost their full coaching staff, and as we all know, implemented a focus on “getting tougher”. They swapped top line and fan favorite Pavel Buchnevich for Sammy Blais, and signed Ryan Reaves, Jarred Tinordi, and Barclay Goodrow. While a lot of their core remains, this is a very different team. Now you can see why this match was highly anticipated, especially if the speculation is true that Dolan really was inspired to make these changes because of the Islanders’ dominant performance over the Rangers.

So far this year, the Rangers have done more than keep their head above water. Buoyed by their elite goaltending, they have had the luxury of allowing several of their star players and skilled prospects the time to find their chemistry, and very recently, the outcome has begun looking positive. Kaapo Kakko and Filip Chytil have been a force to be reckoned with all over the ice, and if Gallant can come to the full realization that scratching Nils Lundkvist does not mean Jarred Tinordi should play, then the Rangers may be cooking with gas.

Going back to Long Island, the New York Islanders were riding high at the end of last year’s regular season, clinching a playoff spot, and all but crushing their rival’s hopes in a single evening. The good life didn’t exactly end there either, as they confidently marched their way to the Conference Final, easily dispatching the Penguins and Bruins along the way. Only one game and one goal separated them from going to the Stanley Cup Final. Since then, the majority of the Islanders’ roster has returned for this season. Fortified by the extension of Kyle Palmieri, and signing veterans Zach Parise and Zdeno Chara, they were looking primed to enter the season with a chip on their shoulder and high expectations. This is where the first variable comes into play, construction on the new UBS Arena.

The Islanders started this season on the second longest road trip in NHL history. They played a total of thirteen consecutive games on the road, as construction on their brand-new arena was being completed. This excursion is their longest road trip in franchise history, and it appears the team’s struggles away from home last season have continued into this year as they stumbled out of the gate to a 5-6-2 record before playing a home game. The Islanders haven’t won a game since November 6th against the Winnipeg Jets and have now dropped six straight, including their two at home this past weekend. Putting it bluntly, the team has struggled to score. They have received very little offense from their star center Mathew Barzal, and the team has recently been afflicted by the novel coronavirus.

That brings us to our next variable, the impact of COVID-19 on the Islanders’ roster. This game is in serious danger of being rescheduled. There hasn’t been a threshold publicly declared for how many players need to be added to the COVID-19 protocol before the league takes action, but we’re at the very least balancing quite precariously on the tight rope. The Rangers game against the Senators this past Saturday was postponed after a total of ten players from the Ottawa roster were out due to COVID-19. As it currently sits, the Islanders have seven players in the COVID-19 protocol and two additional roster players out because of injury.

This throws a curveball in any hopes of evaluating how the two teams would fare when facing off against each other. I am by no means asserting the Rangers are guaranteed to win this game; we all know they have bobbled change-ups and made non-NHL caliber rosters shine in the past, and I assure you as any superstitious Rangers fan, I am knocking on wood when discussing potential outcomes. But the Islanders roster will be featuring almost as many players from Bridgeport as it will have players that started the year in the NHL. The team has called up seven players from the AHL since November 18th.

While the Battle of New York always promises to be filled with action one way or the other, the Rangers will likely have to wait until next spring to see for themselves just how well their reinforced roster will match up against a team that perhaps played a vital role in determining the Rangers’ future.