The New York Islanders and New York Rangers have always been archrivals.
Now they’re crosstown rivals.
The Islanders and Rangers will write a new chapter in their storied feud, meeting for the first time at Barclays Center before a national audience on NBCSN Wednesday at 8:00 p.m.
“It’s obviously one of the bigger rivalries in the NHL,” said Matt Martin, a veteran of 24 Isles-Rangers games. “It’s pretty wild when these two teams come together; both fanbases go back and forth with the chants. We have a lot of fun with it.”
The days of on-ice line brawls are likely gone, but that doesn’t level any of the intensity from the Islanders-Rangers rivalry. The derby-style crowd keeps the energy high with dueling chants throughout the game, but the shorter distance between the two arenas will undoubtedly invite more opportunity. With the Islanders’ move to Brooklyn you can almost picture the Rangers pulling up to Coney Island and screeching for the Isles to come out and play, a la The Warriors.
“Any divisional game, especially a team that’s right down the street from you, is something special,” said Josh Bailey, who will lace up his skates for his 33rd Isles-Rangers game. “It’s always a split crowd, which is pretty interesting to play in front of. A lot of cheering, a lot of booing, the odd fight in the stands, it’s a fun atmosphere to be a part of.”
Jack Capuano expects this to be the best atmosphere of the Islanders’ short tenure at Barclays Center.
“We’ve had some games there with some good atmospheres, but this one – the first Islander-Ranger game at Barclays – to me it’ll be the best atmosphere we’ve had up to this point and hopefully the guys will feed off that.”
Johnny Boychuk, a veteran of some heated Montreal Canadiens-Boston Bruins games, recognizes that focus is key. The need to stay disciplined supersedes the want to satisfy a rowdy crowd.
“You can’t get too high before the game because you might go over the top and take penalties,” said Boychuk, who threw some big hits on Rick Nash last season. “They go on the power play and score goals and then there goes your energy. You just have to do your job and play hard.”
The rivalry got a jolt last season as both teams battled at or near the top of the Metropolitan Division standings. The Islanders are six points behind the first-place Rangers, so there are valuable points, as well as bragging rights, at stake Wednesday.
“They are a very good hockey team,” Martin said. “It’s a good test for us to see where we are. They are a team we’re trying to catch in the standings, so it’s a big one for us.”
The Islanders and Rangers come into the game on opposite streaks. The Islanders are 3-0-1 in their last four games, while the Rangers have lost three of their last four, getting off the schneid against the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday.
Last season the Islanders took the season series 3-2-0, winning both games at Madison Square Garden and one of the three games at Nassau Coliseum. The Islanders went 3-0-0 against Henrik Lundqvist, scoring 13 goals in the three wins.
Jaroslav Halak was stellar against the Rangers last season, going 3-2-0 with a 2.42 goals-against average, a .931 save percentage and a shutout. Halak is 6-4-2 this season with a 2.02 GAA and a .921 save percentage while Thomas Greiss, who has started and won the Islanders’ past two games, is 7-3-2 with a 2.30 GAA and a .925 save percentage. Either way, the Islanders have faith in whoever assumes the crease Wednesday.
“We’ve got two quality guys that are playing well for us,” Capuano said. “We’ll make that decision later.”
Ryan Strome has four points (2G, 2A) in three games since being recalled from Bridgeport, while Cal Clutterbuck has goals in two straight. Clutterbuck’s line – featuring Matt Martin and Casey Cizikas – has scored goals in three of the Islanders’ last four games, highlighting the team’s depth.
“We’re a balanced team with four lines that can play,” Martin said. “We need to use that to our advantage, we can’t rely on John [Tavares] to be scoring all the goals – and his line. When we get depth scoring, it’s only going to improve our chances of winning hockey games and being successful.”
The Rangers counter with Rick Nash, Derick Brassard and leading scorer Mats Zuccarello, who leads the team with 11 goals and 22 points. Keith Yandle leads the team with 12 assists and all Rangers’ defensemen with 13 points. Forward Derek Stepan (broken ribs) and defenseman Kevin Klein (strained oblique) will both miss Wednesday’s game.
“It’s another game, three periods of hockey for us to do the right things,” Capuano said. “But it’s Rangers-Islanders, it’s a big rivalry; it’s been going on a lot longer than I’ve been around. It’s a great game. It’ll be a tremendous atmosphere and I’m looking forward to it.”