NEW YORK -- The rivalry between the New York Rangers and New York Islanders has always been one of the NHL's most intense, and that doesn't figure to change Friday night at Madison Square Garden as each team is in dire need of points.
The Rangers have gotten off to a 1-3-2 start to their franchise-record nine-game homestand. The Islanders haven't won in regulation since Nov. 12 and find themselves in last place in the Metropolitan Division with 25 points in 35 games. Each team will look to turn things around against its heated rival in a preview of the Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game set for Jan. 29 at Yankee Stadium.
"It's always fun to play these games. They're always heated, they're always close," Islanders forward Matt Martin said. "There's no better place to get two points than in Madison Square Garden."
This is the second game this season between these regional rivals, who met Oct. 29 at Nassau Coliseum in a game the Rangers won 3-2. For players who are new to the history of these two teams, that game was an eye-opener.
"People have been talking about it [the rivalry] since I got here. I didn't really realize how serious it was until the first game at the Coliseum. It was pretty crazy. The intensity level was just ratcheted up that much more. It kind of had a playoff feel to it," said forward Cal Clutterback, acquired in a trade with the Minnesota Wild over the summer.
Center Casey Cizikas will be back in the lineup for the Islanders after missing two games with a bruised jaw. He will be featured on a checking line alongside Martin and Eric Boulton. Matt Carkner will also be inserted into the lineup on defense for Aaron Ness after being a healthy scratch for three games, all losses. Islanders coach Jack Capuano did not reveal who would sit with Cizikas back in the lineup.
"For me, it doesn't matter who we play, honestly. We have to find a way. Just some of the ways we've been losing is tough to explain," said Capuano, whose team lost 3-2 in the shootout Tuesday against the Tampa Bay Lightning despite leading 2-0 with less than three minutes to go.
"Guys know. There's a lot of pride in that room, there's a lot of character in that room. It's going to take 60 consistent minutes tonight."
For the Rangers, J.T. Miller was recalled from the American Hockey League on Thursday, his third time this season being called up from Connecticut. It appears he'll get every chance to produce with the Rangers, as he skated at center alongside veterans Brad Richards and Benoit Pouliot.
"We thought it might be a good time to give him a look. With the [roster] freeze that happened [Thursday] night, he's here until at least the 27th. We'll see how he starts tonight and go from there," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "Hopefully an experienced guy like Brad can rub off on J.T. and it can be the start of something positive."
Henrik Lundqvist will make his eighth straight start in net for the Rangers and Evgeni Nabokov starts for the Islanders.
Here are the projected lineups for the Islanders and Rangers:
Thomas Vanek - John Tavares - Kyle Okposo
Josh Bailey - Frans Nielsen - Michael Grabner
Ryan Strome - Brock Nelson - Cal Clutterbuck
Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas - Eric Boulton
Travis Hamonic - Calvin De Haan
Thomas Hickey - Andrew MacDonald
Matt Carkner - Brian Strait
Scratched: Aaron Ness, Colin McDonald, Peter Regin
Injured: Radek Martinek (back), Lubomir Visnovsky (concussion)
Rick Nash - Derek Stepan - Mats Zuccarello
Chris Kreider - Derick Brassard - Carl Hagelin
Brad Richards - J.T. Miller - Benoit Pouliot
Brian Boyle - Dominic Moore - Derek Dorsett
Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
John Moore - Anton Stralman
Michael Del Zotto - Justin Falk
Scratched: Taylor Pyatt
Injured: Marc Staal (concussion/neck), Ryan Callahan (knee)