Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Rivalry: Rangers vs. Islanders - V

From the desks of:

The Rivalry - V

Metropolitan Division
1) N.Y. Islanders  43-21-4; 90 points
2) N.Y. Rangers    40-17-7; 87 points

Islanders lead series 3-1
I - NYI 6; NYR 3
II - NYI 3; NYR 0
III - NYI 4; NYR 1
IV - NYR 6; NYI 5

The Ice of March
New York Rangers
New York Islanders
Uniondale Ice House

Although Long Island's comeback effort against the Maple Leafs prevented this game from being a showdown for first place, Tuesday night's game should no less epic.  The Uniondale Ice House hasn't rocked like this in decades.  A March Rangers/Islanders showdown with very meaningful implications is finally back on the schedule.  The Rivalry is on again!

The Islanders escaped Toronto and bring a 3 point lead over the Rangers into this evening's game.

Long Island has achieved things this season not accomplished since their Cup years.  They have risen to every challenge, answered every call, handled every top competitor, responded accordingly when called for, and have otherwise been one of the consistently dominant teams of the conference - just ask the Leafs...

However, I feel all the pressure entering Tuesday night's clash is on them.  Thing is, the Rangers have three/four games in hand, and the Islanders know it.  Including Tuesday, the Isles have 14 games remaining, while the Rangers have 18 games left in the regular season.

The Islanders have been somewhat pressing recently to sustain their position atop the division.  It certainly seemed that way again when they trailed Toronto by a 3-1 margin in the 3rd period.  But, the resilient Isles scored twice more (3x in the 3rd period) to send the game into overtime.  John Tavares then won it with a power play goal.

Nick Leddy left the game with an injury, and might be a game time decision on Tuesday.

The Isles improved to 2-2 in March, and are 11-5-3 since February 3rd.

But here comes the competition.

Tex's Rangers are surging, and have drawn within striking distance of the division and conference leaders with a 12-2-3 record since February 2nd.

Entering Tuesday's game, Cam Talbot started 15 of the Rangers previous 16 games in Henrik Lundqvist's absence.  On Sunday, he posted his second shutout in his last 6 games; a 1-0 effort against the Flames, and a 1-0 overtime gem against the Blackhawks on Sunday.  Overall, he's made 24 starts this season, and now owns a 14-6-4 record, with a .921 SV% and a 2.33 GAA.

In the meantime, Henrik Lundqvist will surely have some rust to work off upon his return, but he will be well rested for a playoff run.

Jaroslav Halak will be making his 49th start of the season.  He set the Islanders goalie record earlier this season, and is presently 3rd in the NHL with 34 victories.  Thanks in part to the NHL's 3rd ranked offense, Halak owns a 34-13-1 record, but with a less stellar .911 SV% which ranks 26th among goalies with 30+ starts, and a 2.48 GAA which similarly ranks 22nd.

The Islanders indeed own the NHL's 3rd most potent offense.  John Tavares has done his best to minimize the loss of line mate Kyle Okposo.  Tavares now leads the NHL with 72 points, and is 4th with 33 goals.  The power play is a very respectable 11th in the league.

However, despite off-season upgrades, defense, with particular emphasis on the penalty kill, continue to haunt Garth Snow, Coach Capuano, and the Islanders.  They are 23rd in goals against, and a woeful 29th on the penalty kill.

Leading up to the trade deadline, the Islanders acquired goalie Michal Neuvirth and defenseman Mark Louis

The Rangers boast the NHL's 4th most potent offense, and the 12th best power play (both just a tick behind the Isles).  Within the conference, their +43 point differential is second only to Tampa.  With 38 goals, Rick Nash is 2nd only to Alex Ovechkin.

Defensively, the numbers suggest there is no comparison between teams.  The Rangers are the NHL's 3rd most stingiest team, and they rate 9th on the penalty kill.

Although the results remain to be seen, Glen Sather might have pulled off a pair of savvy trades in acquiring forward James Sheppard, and defenseman Keith Yandle.

Derick Brassard continues to have the best season of his career.  He scored the game winning goal against the Blackhawks Sunday.  In 61 games played he now has 14 goals and has established career highs with 37 assists and 51 points - both of which lead the team.  Last season, he scored a career high 18 goals in 81 games.


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