Mar 7, 2013; Uniondale, NY, USA; New York Islanders goalieEvgeni Nabokov
(20) makes a save against the New York Rangers during the first period of an NHL game at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
7pm, Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum
Middletown, N. J. – Before you read the following, go to the right side of our home page and check out the ‘Hub’. Before each game we post a pre-game song/video that goes with the night’s events to get you ready. And just for anyone at home keeping score, since we instituted this new feature, the Isles are undefeated. Soon we hope to open up fan voting for this exciting new addition to eyesonisles.com.
Not since 2007 have the New York Islanders played a meaningful game in April. Say what you will about the shortened schedule, and New York Rangers fans will try their hardest, tonight’s contest is a monumental event for the seemingly forever rebuilding team from Long Island.
True respect is earned and not absentmindedly handed down, and the Islanders have done everything in their power to earn it from both the League and their opponents alike.
The path on which Garth Snow has this team is finally starting to bear fruit, with youngsters meshing and veterans providing leadership and much needed support. And that is saying nothing of what is awaiting the long suffering Islanders fans in Bridgeport: a barn of able steeds ready to tear off the roof and run among the most fearsome predators in the National Hockey League jungle.
Tonight, on a 200 x 85 ice surface in Uniondale, Long Island a masterpiece of hockey awaits us all. A tense, contentious affair that should bring about the best in both these quality hockey clubs. The only questions remaining: Will friends still be friends after this game? Will husbands and wives still co-exist in the same household? Will dogs end up on the porch, or sleeping in the backyard? Will little Billy be punished for no reason whatsoever? (Of course, all the aforementioned said in jest.)
But the point is clear: “The die is cast” and tensions have been building up over the various social network outlets these past two days between two rabid, emotional and passionate fan bases.
Anyone who would give the edge to Nabokov here would have to be nuts. But truth be told, both goaltenders are playing outstanding hockey lately, and one may argue that the Islanders’s veteran goaltender has been the better of the two. Primarily responsible for the defensive resurgence lately of 15 goals against in 10 games by the Isles, Nabokov can take a huge step forward in confidence with a victory tonight. What he needs to stay away from tonight is allowing any soft goals to a team that is clearly struggling to score.
Lundqvist is usually the one man on the ice that can not only keep the Rangers close, but lead them to victory almost single-handily. If they put him at forward, he might even find a way to net a hat trick getting them into the post-season. He is that good. In his career against the Isles, the King has posted a 2.13 GAA and 4 shutouts. Lundqvist has allowed two or fewer goals in 11 of his last 12 starts. If there is a weakness, its high as he tends to play very deep in his net.
At the beginning of the season who would have thought the current Islanders back line would turn out to be so effective and gel at just the right time? Okay, nobody? Me either. Waiver wire genius Snow went out and scooped up Thomas Hickey and all he has provided is a +6 rating to go along with solid play night in and night out, improving the Islanders transition play while really stepping up his defensive efforts. Travis Hamonic might just be Superman, after seeing how ugly his potential injury looked the other night in Boston then missing all of five minutes. Andrew MacDonald continues to lead the league in blocked shots and Mark Streit and Lubomir Visnovsky pace the offensive side of things. Lubo, as he is called, has made the most impact on this team in all three zones.
The Rangers clearly miss Marc Staal, still out with a serious eye injury suffered when he took a deflected shot. Immediately after a visit in New York, his brothers Eric and Jordan of Carolina, both started wearing protective visors. He has started to skate but clearly still suffering the after effects and might miss the rest of the season. Micheal DelZotto, cheap shot on James Neal aside, has been steady and Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh form what could be arguably the best pair in the league right now. At the end of the day, it all relies on the aforementioned Lundqvist and this defense only goes as far as he takes them.
What can you say that has not already been said about the outstanding and inspirational play of the Frans Nielsen line. Anchoring this unit with Kyle Okposo and red hot Josh Bailey, this tandem has been the most consistent and hardest working line for the Isles. Never taking a shift off and often matched up against the other teams best unit, it really has led the 8-1-1 run the team currently finds themselves on. Bailey is 4-3-7 in his last six and Nielsen has hit 20 assists for the 5th consecutive season, the first Islander to do so since Patrick Flatley did it from 1990-1995. Budding superstar in the making, if he is not already, John Tavares is 3-3-6 over his past six and yes fans that is struggling. His play, along with the entire first line, has been inconsistent and out of sync but with JT and linemates Matt Moulson (2-2 in 4 games) and Brad Boyes, when you can put up those kind of numbers not playing your best shows you just how dangerous they can be.
The Rangers come in as one of the lowest scoring teams in the league, with just seven teams at a lower goals per game than 2.38. That does not mean they are not dangerous however. Rick Nash, acquired in the offseason from Columbus, is as dangerous as it gets in the entire league, with tremendous size to go along with elite hands. His power move then subsequent cut inside is becoming nightly highlight reel material. Derek Stepan is silencing critics with his overall game and putting up extremely big offensive numbers to boot. The young centerman has 25 points in his last 22 games on 11 goals. Carl Hagelin and Mats Zuccarello provide the Michael Grabner type speed element up front and trade deadline pickup Ryane Clowe will do the dirty work in the corners.
The Islanders have clearly responded to Jack Capuano‘s message and are playing a tight, disciplined game in all areas of the rink. Cappy, as he is known, will get serious consideration for the Jack Adams award as top coach of the year, especially if the Isles make the post season. Although most in the hockey media cannot see how the winner is not announced as Senators boss Paul MacLean.
John Tortorella continues to be curt and snarky with the media when it suits him and it has not earned him any friends off the rink. Not that he cares, Torts is a result driven bench boss who demands a ton from his players. Never one to coddle and work with youth, he sent Chris Kreider and J.T. Miller to the American Hockey League when his team struggled the most to put the puck in the net. Some have said if the Rangers fail to qualify for the playoffs, his job could be in serious jeopardy.
All-Time Between The Two
The Rangers hold the edge in the all-time series between the rivals, 118-99-19-7 with a record at Nassau Coliseum of 49-62-8-2. Not that those statistics mean anything at this point in the season with so much on the line. The Islanders are trying to solidify their place in the Eastern Conference and possibly catch Ottawa and even dare I say, Toronto for the five seed, while the Rangers are trying to hold off the New Jersey Devils and combination of Winnipeg Jets and Washington Capitals.
This game has all the makings of a classic. Now, while we have all seen anticipation and anxiousness of some games eventually turn into duds, I really cannot see this being the case this evening. Who shows up is another point on everyone’s mind? In the past couple of seasons especially, Rangers fans have outnumbered Islanders fans in their own building, some saying as much as 65%. That cannot be the case tonight. I take you back to when Shawn Bates scored on a penalty shot against Curtis Joseph and the Toronto Maple Leafs in the playoffs to remind you of how loud we can be…..
We need to be THAT crowd tonight. The one that gets behind its team and becomes a 7th man on the ice. It is finally time to take back and protect our house. It is time we sat back and enjoyed the respect that is coming our way but always remember how we got here in the first place. We worked hard and earned it. If we continue to work for every bit of ice, every loose puck and every rebound, who knows how far this team can go?
In addition to our pregame pump up jam, I leave you with this slice of Ray Liotta heaven. It just seems so appropriate for the situation. Enjoy the game and I will see you at the postgame wrap here at eyesonisles.com.
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