RANGERS (8-3-1) at ISLANDERS (1-4-5)
Last 10 -- Rangers 7-2-1; Islanders 1-4-5
Season series -- The rivals are meeting for the first time this season. The Rangers won five of the six meetings last season, including all three visits to the Nassau Coliseum, after going 6-7-3 in the previous two seasons. The Blueshirts have won their last five visits to Long Island.
Big story -- Talk about two teams going in opposite directions. The Rangers have won eight of their first 12 games, including a 5-2 blitz of the Phoenix Coyotes at home on Monday night -- though their big gun, Marian Gaborik, left the game with an injury and, according to coach John Tortorella, won't dress. Meanwhile, the Islanders twice overcame one-goal deficits at Montreal -- only to lose 3-2 in overtime, their fifth post-regulation loss in 10 games this season. They are 0-1-2 since beating Carolina last Wednesday and have yet to win a game in regulation all season.
Rangers -- New York has gotten a lot of early mileage from two key off-season signings, Gaborik and Vaclav Prospal. Gaborik, who signed a five-year deal, has already scored 10 goals and 18 points, while Prospal has scored four times and set up 12 goals. The up-tempo approach adopted by new coach John Tortorella seems a better fit with the team's personnel than the more defense-oriented tactics of Tom Renney, his predecessor -- though Gaborik's absence will mean some changes tonight. New York is averaging 3.83 goals per game in the early going -- up from 2.44 in 2008-09.
Islanders -- Not a lot has gone right for the Islanders this season. They're 1-5 in games that have gone past regulation, have struggled to hold leads and are playing like a team that hasn't built confidence in itself.
"We're playing some great games," goaltender Martin Biron said after Monday's OT loss at Montreal. "We've played one game that was really, really bad out of 10, and that was the game against Montreal here last week (5-1 loss). We've gone to overtime six times so one bounce one way or the other and it could be a different thing, and that's the positive we've got to take out of it."
Who's hot -- First-year defenseman Michael Del Zotto, the Rangers' top pick in the 2008 Entry Draft, leads all rookies in scoring with 12 points (4 goals, 8 assists) and has given the power play a major boost. The Islanders have gotten some offense from Jeff Tambellini, who had both goals in Montreal and has scored each of the Isles' last three.
Injury report -- Gaborik left Monday night's game after a collision with Petr Prucha of Phoenix, didn't practice Tuesday and was not at the morning skate on Wednesday -- after which Tortorella said he won't play. The Rangers say the injury is not related to the hip and groin problems that cost him most of last season. They have called up forward P.A. Parenteau from AHL Hartford. Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist had a minor auto accident on Tuesday but reportedly is OK. Isles captain Doug Weight missed the last three games with the flu.
Stat pack -- The Rangers come into this game with a 27.4 success rate on the power play. That's nearly double last season, when they were 29th with a 13.9 percent success rate. … The Islanders, next-to-last in the NHL on faceoffs in 2008-09 at 45.7 percent, are fifth so far this season at 53.1 percent.
Puck drop -- There is nothing that would improve the Islanders' mood like a win over their biggest rivals. But they'll have to step up the level of their play several notches to get one. The absence of Gaborik will present a challenge to the Rangers.
-- John Kreiser, NHL.com