The New York Islanders will soon face the Rangers for the first time this season, followed by two more meetings shortly after. There will be some interesting factors to look out for.
Something feels a little different about this Islander season, and it’s not just because Anthony Beauvillier is on pace to record over 51 points. Rather, the new year is quickly approaching and the Islanders are yet to face an all-too-familiar foe, the New York Rangers.
Consider that over the past five seasons, the longest the Isles have had to wait to face the Rangers was December 2 in the 2015-16 season. Over this five-season span, it has taken an average of 11 games for the Isles to meet the Rangers. This season, the Islanders will not meet the Rangers until January 13, 44 games into the season.
Nonetheless, it won’t be too hard for the Isles to get re-acclimated to the Blueshirts, as the teams will square off again on January 16 and January 21. This means that the teams will play each other three times in nine days. Therefore, here’s three things to look out for in this crosstown “mini-series”:
1. Reasserting Dominance in the H2H Series
From 2015-16 to 2017-18, the Islanders virtually owned the Rangers. In these three seasons, the teams met 12 times, and the Isles won all but once. The Isles’ dominance was most apparent in 2017-18 when they swept the season series. In these four games, the Isles scored an average of 4 goals per game and allowed an average of just 1.5 goals per game.
Last season, the Islanders dropped back down to Earth in the head to head series. The teams split the four-game series, and the Isles were actually outscored by the Rangers 15-12.
It’ll be interesting to see this season if the Islanders can regain their dominance over the Rangers.
2. The Artemi Panarin Reaction
It was no secret that Panarin topped the Isles’ off-season wish-list. The Islanders were pretty darn close to landing their prize, too. At one point, they were even considered the favorites to sign Panarin. But Panarin spurned the Isles and decided to take less money to sign with the rival Rangers.
Islander fans haven’t forgotten about this, and will surely share their feelings with Panarin when the two teams square off. The first meeting with the Rangers is at MSG, so we may have to wait until the Jan. 16th showdown at the Barn to really hear the jeers and taunts.
The reaction to Panarin will likely be more subdued than was the reaction to Tavares in his return to the Barn last season, as it will be hard to top that. Nonetheless, Isles fans may make a respectable effort when they see Panarin in a Ranger sweater for the first time.
3. Alexandar Georgiev
For much of the past decade, the Islanders have been used to seeing a familiar face in goal for the Blueshirts. Nonetheless, the Isles should not count on seeing King Henrik as much this season.
For starters, Lundqvist is putting up some of his worst-career numbers in his age 37 season. So far Lundqvist has a .910 SV%, down from his career-average .918 SV%. Even more striking, so far this season he has a career-worst 3.12 GAA, down from his career 2.43 GAA.
As such, this season the Rangers have been turning more consistently to their backup keeper, Alexandar Georgiev. Georgiev has 16 starts this season while Lundqvist has 20. In comparison, last season Georgiev started just 30 games while Lundqvist started 52.
If Lundqvist continues to put up poor numbers, Georgiev may get the nod even more frequently by the time the two teams face off in January.
An even stronger reason why the Islanders can expect to see a lot of Alexandar Georgiev this season is that he flat-out dominated them last year. In his two starts versus the Islanders last year, Georgiev earned a 5-0 shutout and a 2-1 victory. Meanwhile, in the two games Lundqvist started, the Rangers lost 7-5 and 4-3.
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It definitely feels like there is a passing-of-the-torch happening between the pipes at MSG. Isles fans may want to get used to seeing a lot more of Prince Alexandar.