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Know the foe: New York Islanders

John Dundon

rangers vs islanders faceoff 12-2

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

“Know the foe” will be a series of posts in which I examine some of the Rangers likely playoff opponents. Up first, who else but the cross town rival New York Islanders.

Starting this playoff matchup preview series wouldn’t feel quite right if it were about any other team. The Rangers are 0-2-1 against the Islanders so far this year. They play again once more in the regular season: April 7 at MSG, the second to last game of the season. Each of the Blueshirts losses to those pesky Isles has been equally frustrating with the pain coming in different ways each time.

On Dec. 2 the two teams met as NBC’s Wednesday Night Rivalry matchup, a game that saw the Islanders win in a shootout, 2-1. Henrik Lundqvist was outstanding, making 37 saves and letting but one puck squeak by him in the shootout. This was a highly anticipated game–the first visit to the Barclays Center for the Rangers.

The boys returned to the Barclays Center on Jan. 14 to catch another L. This one was a lot of fun. There was back and forth action through the first forty minutes until the Rangers broke through on the scoreboard. They would go on to lose their first game of the season when leading after the third period. This one stung a lot.

The most recent meeting saw the two teams clash for the first time of the season at MSG. This one couldn’t go any worse than the first two had, right?

Wrong.

Good god I went to grab a beer from the fridge after puck drop and came back to a 3-0 deficit. The Islanders were ALL OVER the Rangers in their defensive zone early in this game. That pressure resulted in three first period goals before Alain Vigneault had to call a mercy timeout. The Rangers would settle in and almost pulled off a comeback! And then Cal Clutterbuck took all of our hopes and dreams and tore them to shreds. 6-4 loss.

Since the Islanders took a step towards contention in the summer of 2014, they’ve given the Rangers fits. In their meetings since the start of last year the Rangers are 2-4-1 against NYI and have been outscored 30-13 in those contests. Yikes.

To say that Jack Capuano’s current team owns the Rangers wouldn’t be all that far off. It hasn’t always been like this though. There was a time in the not so distant past when the Islanders—in the midst of a decade long rebuild—were perennial Eastern Conference doormats. They were an easy stepping stone for the Rangers circa 2010- 2014. But now, a combination of the teams stockpiled prospects hitting their stride and a number of savvy moves made by GM Garth Snow have the Isles just as much in contention as anyone in the East.

The Islanders, whether we like it or not, are a force to be reckoned with. Given the way that rivalry matchups in the playoffs have gone in the past five or so years (Penguins-Flyers and Habs-Bruins come to mind), being the favorite in these types of matchups is not ideal.

And that’s what the Rangers would be in a first round NY matchup, the favorites. While the Islanders seem to have the Rangers number right now, the Rangers come in with a winning pedigree and one thing the Islanders could never emulate, Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist alone is enough to give the Rangers the edge against all but a few powerhouse teams in the league.

There’s no doubt that a Rangers-Islanders playoff series would cause many heart attacks and sleepless nights. But the Rangers couldn’t actually lose to the ISLANDERS, right?

Wrong.

The Islanders have proven that they can (more than) hang with the Rangers. Anything can happen come playoff time. To predict Rangers domination just because they are the Rangers here would be foolish. NYR-NYI would almost certainly go seven games. The ups and downs will be painful no matter the end result, catastrophic if they were to lose. While the possible long-term injury sustained by Jaro Halak would certainly put a damper in the Isles cup hopes, anything can happen in the playoffs.

MVP:

The Isles’ MVP is once again John Tavares. Tavares (27-30—57 in 69 GP) got off to a slow start but has returned to his usual form recently. He continues to produce at or near point-per-game levels without elite talent on his wing or elite puck movers from the back-end. The 2009 #1 pick has yet to win a playoff series in his career and would surely like to put that ghost to rest.

UNSUNG HERO:

Thomas Greiss boasts an impressive 19-10-4 record in his starts with the Islanders this season. Even more impressive is high .927 save percentage. The emergence of Greiss has given Jack Capuano a goaltending duo that is a formidable as any tandem in the league. Greiss and the Islanders will now really have their will tested after Jaro Halak was diagnosed with a lower body injury that will keep him out beyond the end of the regular season.

MATCHUP NIGHTMARE:

The Islanders fourth line has given the Rangers fits on multiple occasions recently. Cal Clutterbuck’s game winning goal on March 6 being the latest example. For the Rangers—or any team—to match up with the Islanders they’ll have to find an answer for the tenacious fourth line that features the NHL leader in hits in Matt Martin while worrying about the laser of a wrist shot that Clutterbuck possesses. Casey Cizikas is as good as any fourth line center in the NHL. They are for my money, the best fourth line in the NHL.

DEFENSIVE OUTLOOK:

The Isles group of defenseman has been steady all year long when healthy. Nick Leddy is one of the more underrated defenseman in the league. He is the teams number one guy for all intents and purposes. Leddy is routinely stacked against the opponent’s top line and given the bulk of the minutes. Falling in behind Leddy are Travis Hamonic, Johnny Boychuck and Cal de Haan. All reliable top-four defenseman.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

Head-to-head, the Rangers have only scored one power play goal on against NYI this season. The Isles own the NHL’s second best penalty kill and have been neck and neck for the top spot all season long. Like most, their power-play has had its ups and downs, but still features John Tavares on the half-wall and several pointmen that have booming slap shots.

 

 

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Posted on March 25, 2016, in In the Crease and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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