The New York Islanders entered the All-Star break atop the Metropolitan Division, but they begin the second half of their season against the New York Rangers at Nassau Coliseum on Tuesday without right wing Kyle Okposo.
The Islanders (31-14-1) will be without Okposo, who has 44 points in 46 games, for the next 6-8 weeks because of an upper-body injury, the team announced after practice Monday. Okposo was placed on injured reserve Tuesday retroactive to Jan. 19.
"It's a huge loss … [he's] one of our leaders and certainly brings so much to the table, not only his goal-scoring and his offensive ability, but he just works so hard on his game and sets an example in so many ways," center John Tavares said of Okposo. "He's just a bull on the puck and on the wall and he's done a lot of gritty things too. He's blocked a lot of shots for us this year and playing a lot of minutes.
"It gives some guys some more opportunity … [they've] got to look forward to that and try to grasp that."
Forward Mikhail Grabovski, who hasn't played since Jan. 9 because of a lower-body injury, is expected to return Tuesday; Grabovski has six goals and eight assists in 38 games.
The Rangers (27-13-4) have won three in a row and 16 of their past 19 games. They are five points behind the Islanders with two games in hand. This is the first game between the Rangers and Islanders at Nassau Coliseum this season; the Rangers are 4-0-1 in their past five games on Long Island.
But the Rangers will still be seeking their first win against the Islanders this season; they lost two games at Madison Square Garden earlier this season, including a 3-0 decision Jan. 13.
"There's not a lot of like on each side, so it's a good way to jump right back in after the break," associate coach Scott Arniel said, according to the Rangers' Twitter account.
Barring a showdown in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, this is the first of three remaining games between the Rangers and Islanders at Nassau Coliseum. The Islanders are moving to Barclays Center in Brooklyn next season.
Here are the projected lineups:
Rick Nash – Derick Brassard – Mats Zuccarello
Chris Kreider – Derek Stepan – Martin St. Louis
Carl Hagelin – Kevin Hayes – Jesper Fast
J.T. Miller – Dominic Moore – Lee Stempniak
Ryan McDonagh – Dan Girardi
Marc Staal – Dan Boyle
Matt Hunwick – Kevin Klein
Scratched: John Moore, Tanner Glass
Josh Bailey - John Tavares - Mikhail Grabovski
Anders Lee - Frans Nielsen - Ryan Strome
Michael Grabner - Brock Nelson - Nikolay Kulemin
Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas - Cal Clutterbuck
Calvin de Haan - Travis Hamonic
Nick Leddy - Johnny Boychuk
Thomas Hickey - Brian Strait
Scratched: Matt Donovan
Injured: Kyle Okposo (upper body), Lubomir Visnovsky (upper body), Eric Boulton (lower body)
Status report: Arniel addressed the media after the morning skate. Coach Alain Vigneault is under the weather. … Boulton was placed on injured reserve Tuesday, retroactive to Oct. 17. Grabovski took Okposo's spot on the top line during practice Monday and is expected to assume that role against the Rangers.
Who's hot: Over the past three games, Stepan has two goals and three assists, Kreider has two goals and two assists, and St. Louis has four assists. … Tavares (two goals, four assists) and Bailey (one goal, five assists) each enter with a three-game point streak.