Jan 29, 2014; New York City, NY, USA; New York Islanders center John Tavares (91) skates with the puck against the New York Rangers in the third period during the Stadium Series hockey game at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
The New York Islanders (2-0-0 4 points) head into Manhattan Tuesday to battle the hated New York Rangers (1-2-0 2 points). This is the first of 4 meetings for the teams this year, and it’s the first chance to renew the long standing rivalry. The Rangers come off a flat-out embarrassing 6-3 loss in their home opener to the Toronto Maple Leafs, while the Islanders are flying high after sweeping a home-and-home with the Carolina Hurricanes to start the year. Both teams should be able to generate plenty of scoring chances, and all eyes will be on Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist who gave up all 6 goals to Toronto on Sunday and was mercifully pulled in the second period. Here are three key factors for the Islanders to skate out of Madison Square Garden with a victory:
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The Isles third line must slow down Nash, Kreider and St. Louis
In Saturday’s home opener against the Carolina Hurricanes it was the third line of Frans Nielsen, Josh Bailey, and Nikolay Kulemin who had great shift after great shift and eventually netted the game-winning goal. Nielsen seems much more comfortable in a checking role, which really highlights his two-way play, and Kulemin is showing how strong he can be with and without the puck. Perhaps Bailey’s performance has been the biggest surprise so far early this season. He is second on the team in hits and seems well-suited for the third line. It will be their job to shut down the Rangers first line of Rick Nash, Chris Kreider, and Martin St. Louis. Nash scored his first goal of the season Sunday night, then left the team to be with his wife who was giving birth to their first child. It is believed that Nash will be in the line-up Tuesday night.
The Islanders Penalty Kill needs to be fixed. Fast.
As any Isles fan who has watched this team over the past, oh, roughly two decades can tell you that the PK has been bad. So far this season it doesn’t seem to have gotten much better. Carolina scored 2 goals with the man advantage in each of the first two games and the PK is 5-9 overall (56%). On the flip side, the Rangers have yet to score a Power-Play goal this season but don’t attribute that to a lack of skill. The Rangers are 0-8 with a man up this year so far, but the Isles do not want to wake the sleeping giant.
Jaroslav Halak needs to match Henrik Lundqvist in goal
New Islanders #1 goalie Jaro Halak was strong in the team’s opener in Raleigh, stopping 21 of 24 shots for his first win of the year. He was spelled by Chad Johnson on Saturday night and should be well rested for Tuesday’s contest. The Rangers undoubtedly have serious firepower up front, and while the Islanders have bolstered their defense this season, this will be the first true test for Halak. All throughout training camp we have heard from Isles players who mention how great it is to have a legitimate #1 goaltender between the pipes, and this is where Halak will need to stand up big.
I expect the Islanders to come ready to play, but I also can’t see the Rangers having another deflating let down game after Sunday’s debacle. As with every Isles-Rangers game this will be an intense and energetic game, and fans of each team are looking forward to it. Check back here after the game for our post-game recap.