The Last time the Islanders faced their cross town rivals, the New York Rangers, it was Game 2 of the 2010-11 season and the team was fired up coming off of a 5-4 overtime loss to the Dallas Stars. That tenacity led the Islanders to a 6-4 victory over the Rangers as they scored two power play goals and one on the empty net.
Beginning to regain their confidence, with a three-point streak and a win over the New Jersey Devils just six days ago, the Islanders young team will use their persistence to their advantage and come out of the gates Thursday night at Nassau Coliseum with that same enthusiasm they had when they first faced the Rangers on Oct. 11.
“It’s just a good rivalry,” Islanders forward Blake Comeau said. “Obviously there is going to be a lot of energy in the arena. I think we’ve been playing better as of late. They are a good team and it’s going to be a good test.”
After game two of the season, the Islanders continued on their path to success for five more games, going 4-1-2 in their first seven before they lost defenseman Andrew MacDonald
to a broken hand. The injury has kept MacDonald sidelined for the last 15 games and in that span the Islanders have gone 1-11-3, with their only win coming at home the day after Thanksgiving.
|Chris Stewart #25 of the Colorado Avalanche chases Andrew MacDonald #47 of the New York Islanders for the puck on October 16, 2010 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images) |
“I mean we’re trying to win a game,” Islanders interim head coach Jack Capuano said. “Obviously when you play the Rangers it brings out the best in both teams. It’s going to be a great atmosphere, but we’re just ready to play. I thought we had a great two days of practice. We worked on some things we needed to work on. So hopefully we can come out and execute.”
Getting MacDonald back in the lineup will definitely be important. In the seven games he’s played this season, the defenseman has averaged 19:05:42 TOI, with 3:32:42 on the power play and 2:32 while shorthanded. He’s the only player on the Islanders roster with a positive plus/minus ranking (+1) and has recorded 4 shots, 4 hits, 5 takeaways, 16 blocked shots and 11 attempts blocked.
“(Having MacDonald back) gives our D a boost,” Capuano said. “It’s a guy that is going to play 20 plus minutes. He’s really going to help us out on the power play, you know, his distribution of the puck on the power play and his shot. The one thing about Andrew being out for as long as he has is that he has to make sure he simplifies his game his first game back and not over handle the puck.”
After sitting out the better part of six weeks, MacDonald is itching to get back in the Islanders lineup. He’s been skating on his own these last two weeks of his recovery, but started practicing in full gear a week ago and had his first practice with the team Monday morning.
“Last year when I came back from my foot injury the Rangers was my first game too and the intensity was a bit more than your average game,” MacDonald said. “I’m really looking forward to it. I know what to expect in that sense and considering it’s a home-and-home, both teams are going to try to set the tone for the next night. It’s going to be great.”
The Islanders power play could definitely use a boost as they are currently 0-for-31 and have not scored on the power play in any of their last eight games, dating back to Matt Moulson
’s power play goal on Nov. 6.
“Special teams is something that goes in spurts,” Capuano said. “You have shoot the puck. You can have as much zone time as you want but that’s what the players on the penalty kill want. They want that first opportunity, you move it around the puck bobbles, they pressure and they send it 200 feet (into our defensive zone). That kills 25 or 26 seconds off of your power play. So, we have the ability to get the puck to the net and we have to get the puck to the net.”
With MacDonald and Jack Hillen returning from injured reserve, the Islanders now have eight healthy defensemen, so decisions will have to be made as to who will be the healthy scratches in Thursday night’s matchup.
After Wednesday’s practice, Capuano said, “(Hillen) is off the IR and Hunt’s (Trent Hunter) has been placed on it, but Jack has at least skated some limited minutes now. He feels pretty good and his game is getting where it needs to be we’ll sit down this afternoon as a staff and figure out our defensive pairings for tomorrow.”
Having MacDonald and Hillen back in the lineup is something the team has been looking forward to. Comeau said, “It’s huge for us. Our D-core has been pretty banged up as of late. To get two of those guys back is going to be huge for us. Jack (Hillen) skates really well. A-Mac (MacDonald) is a really good all-around defenseman. It’s big for us. Hopefully they can step in right away and help us.”
|Blake Comeau #57 of the New York Islanders skates against the New Jersey Devils on November 26, 2010 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. Islanders defeated the Devils 2-0. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images) |
Comeau is another player to keep an eye on. He’s had 54 shots on goal since he scored two goals against the Rangers on Oct. 11, and has yet to record one goal since.
“It’s getting frustrating,” Comeau said. “The important thing is that I’m getting shots. I have to keep putting pucks on the net. The biggest thing is if I am getting pucks on the net, eventually they will go in. I have to stay positive and keep shooting the puck.”
Coming off of a three-game point streak, Islanders goaltender Rick DiPietro
will get the start in net for the Islanders on Thursday. In those starts, DiPietro made 96 saves, allowing 6 goals. As a result, Capuano hasn’t ruled out back-to-back starts for DiPietro in the home-and-home series. If he plays well, the goaltender may get the nod at Madison Square Garden on Friday night.
“You know what, (it’s) game by game with me,” Capuano said “I don’t even look ahead. Tomorrow’s line up is set tonight, but Ricky will get the start tomorrow. He has played well in his last 3 starts and he deserves the opportunity to go.”
DiPietro is feeling better than he has in a long time and being able to get back into the grind of playing on a nightly basis is something he is excited about.
“It feels great,” DiPietro said about being back. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to contribute on a regular basis. It’s nice to be back in the flow of things and kind of get some normalcy back to my routine and schedule. This is a special group of 20 guys. Every time you step on the ice and you lace up your skates and put on your equipment, you want to do whatever you can to help and be a part of something special. I think we have that here. It’s going to be on us to keep working.”