For the second time this week, the Rangers are taking their game to the great outdoors. They'll complete their 2014 NHL Stadium Series run when they host their cross-town rivals, the New York Islanders, on Wednesday night.
After their 7-3 dismantling of the Devils at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, the Rangers look to continue their recent strong play against an Islanders team that is desperate for points as it clings to whatever remains of its slim playoff hopes.
The Rangers enter the game having won seven of their past 10 while the Islanders have lost three in a row and sit seven points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Whether the game is at a baseball stadium or an arena, the Islanders need a win. Badly.
After posting a 16-18-2 record over the first 36 games, the Rangers have been on a 12-5-1 run over the past 18 and have worked their way up to second place in the Metropolitan Division. The driving force behind that recent hot streak has been the play of Rick Nash, as he has busted out his early season slump and scored 11 goals in his past 11 games, including one at Yankee Stadium on Sunday.
It also hasn't hurt that Henrik Lundqvist is starting to play like the Henrik Lundqvist Rangers fans have grown to love. He's posted a .931 save percentage since the start of the New Year. As he goes, the Rangers go, and when he plays like he has over the month, they're going to have a chance.
For both of these guys it was probably just a matter of time until they started to return to form. No matter how much Lundqvist struggled earlier in the season, there was such a big body of work before that to indicate he wasn't going to stay down for long. As for Nash, the chances and the shots had been there for him all season, but he just couldn't get a bounce to go his way for the longest time. Before his recent hot streak he was averaging more than four shots per game but had posted the lowest shooting percentage of his career.
Sooner or later some of those shots were going to start finding the back of the net.
The Islanders are a fascinating team.
On one hand, they score like a playoff team. John Tavares, Kyle Okposo and Thomas Vanek are three of the hottest offensive players in the league and all are in the top-25 in the league in scoring. Tavares and Okposo are both in the top six. Together, they have helped push the Islanders to the top half of the league in goals. Offensively, they score like a team that's good enough to return to the postseason.
The problem is they give up goals like a team that's bad enough to return to the draft lottery.
Only one team in the league (Edmonton) allows more goals than the Islanders' 3.29 and there is plenty of blame to go around. There is no question the team has missed Lubomir Visnovsky and didn't really replace Mark Streit in its lineup after losing him to the Flyers in the offseason. But the biggest problem is the same one that hurt him in last year's playoffs when they went out in the first round at the hand of the Pittsburgh Penguins -- goaltending.
The two-headed monster of Kevin Poulin and Evgeni Nabokov has been brutal for most of the season and both reside in the bottom-15 in the league in save percentage. Poulin's .891 is tied with Devan Dubnyk for the second-worst mark in the league.
Five Questions to Answer
1. Can the Islanders hold a team to less than three goals?
Just how consistently bad have the Islanders been when it comes to preventing goals? They have allowed three or more goals in 42 of their 55 games, including seven of their past eight. They've allowed six in two of their past three. Can they hold the Rangers to less than three?
2. Will Rick Nash score?
With 11 goals in 11 games Rick Nash has been on a roll for the Rangers and is up to 18 goals in 37 games, which is actually one of the highest goal-per-game rates of his career. Will he find the back of the net against an Islanders team that bleeds goals against?
3. Will the Rangers' outdoor experience help them at all?
Let's face it, these outdoor games are just as much of an event and an experience for the players as they are for the fans. The Rangers already have their first experience out of the way. They've been through the pomp and circumstance and they've experienced the elements. The Islanders haven't. Will it have any factor on Wednesday?
4. How will the ice hold up?
The outdoor game in Los Angeles didn't seem to have any problems. The first outdoor game in New York was delayed by sun and received numerous complaints about the quality of the ice during the game, with New Jersey's Martin Brodeur being the most vocal critic, calling it the worst ice he's ever played on. Will it be any better on Thursday?
5. Will John Tavares gain any ground in the scoring race?
Tavares enters play in second place in the NHL scoring race, 10 points behind Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby. With the Penguins off on Wednesday will Tavares be able to gain any ground? He has 26 points in his past 17 games.
|2014 NHL Stadium Series :: NEW YORK|
2nd in Metropolitan Division
Rangers blog: Blueshirt Banter
Isles blog: Lighthouse Hockey
|Wednesday, January 29, 2014 :: 7:30 p.m. ET / 4:30 p.m. PT|
|Yankee Stadium :: Bronx, New York, USA|
|Coverage of every Stadium Series game|
|Rangers: Henrik Lundqvist||40||2268||18||18||96||2.54||1116||1020||.914||3|
|Islanders: Evgeni Nabokov||25||1368||9||8||65||2.85||686||621||.905||1|
|Kreider - Stepan - Nash||1st Line||Vanek - Tavares - Okposo|
|Hagelin - Richards - Callahan||2nd Line||Regin - Nielsen - Bailey|
|Pouliot - Brassard - Zuccarello||3rd Line||Grabner - Nelson - Clutterbuck|
|Boyle - Moore - Carcillo||4th Line||Martin - Cizikas - McDonald|
|McDonagh - Girardi||1st D Pair||Strait - MacDonald|
|Staal - Stralman||2nd D Pair||Visnovsky - Hickey|
|Moore - Klein||3rd D Pair||de Haan - Carkner|