When the New York Rangers take on the New York Islanders this evening it will be a battle of two rivals with very different goals. For the Rangers they are looking to get their first win of the season and secure a big two points before they head out on a Western Canada trip starting Monday. Coming off an 0-0-2 start in Sweden against very good Anaheim and Los Angeles teams the Rangers are looking for momentum can chemistry with tonight’s game. In order to get both of those the Rangers have gone back to both of last season’s best lines with Dubinsky moving back down to play with Anisimov and Callahan while Fedoteno gets taken off that line to be reunited with Boyle and Prust.
Taking Dubinsky's place on the top line is Derek Stepan who will look to more impactful tonight than he has been in either of the first two games. Stepan has the skill set to play and succeed with Richards and Gaborik, and the Rangers need him to do so to give the team some measure of consistency in lines and production. Stepan has severely disappointed in the opening two games as he has played to an Erik Christensen like level of invisibility. Time for him to step his level back up.
Defensively the Rangers are dealing with another loss as Michael Sauer joins Marc Staal as top four defenders not in the lineup. This is another huge blow to the defense corps especially against a young, explosive offense like the Islanders. Against Anaheim and to some extent Los Angeles you can focus mainly on one line and hope to survive against the rest, but the Islanders have more threats throughout their lineup with players like Grabner and his 34 goals not playing with Tavares and Moulson. Girardi and McDonagh will look to shut down the Islanders top line and eat up half the minutes in the game once again, but it will likely be the play of the bottom four that determine the outcome. Tim Erixon, Michael Del Zotto, Steve Eminger and newcomer Jeff Woywitka are going to have to figure out a way to stay afloat for half the game and limit the number of mistakes that Henrik Lundqvist has to erase.
For the Islanders they are looking to make a statement that this season can be different than the misery of the last number of years. The Islanders are a young team at many of the key positions and have yet to prove much at the NHL level and while this game alone will not do that, having a 3-1 opening to the season would continue the hope that this year is different. Having Tavares, Grabner, Moulson, Streit, Okposo and Hamonic gives them a reason to be optimistic about where this team is heading and they are all playing well to open the year coming off a 5-1 beating against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday.
The Rangers were lucky to get out with the 2 points they got in Europe as they played maybe three good periods in the two games. Those kind of half game efforts did not get them wins in Sweden and they will not get them a win tonight against an improving Islanders team. The Rangers should be fired up to play this game and if they play their system by imposing their will they should get their first win.