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Rangers try to keep rolling against sagging Isles

by John Kreiser /
SLANDERS (11-16-6) at RANGERS (21-8-4)


LAST 10: Islanders 4-5-1; Rangers 6-3-1

Season Series: It's the fourth meeting between the teams this season, and the second in less than a week. The Rangers won 4-2 at Madison Square Garden on Thursday to take a 2-1 lead in the series. They've won the last five games against the Isles at MSG.

Big Story: The win against the Isles and another the next night against Philadelphia moved the Rangers into first place at the Christmas break. They'll try for their third straight win this season against the struggling Isles, who followed the loss at the Garden by losing 5-3 to Toronto at home on Friday.

Team Scope:

Islanders -- The Isles' play against the Leafs on Saturday mirrored their performance against the Rangers the night before - inconsistent goaltending and mistakes at key times undermining long periods of solid play. The Islanders trailed the Leafs 3-0 just 11:15 into Friday's game, got within 3-2 before allowing a shorthanded goal after a turnover and couldn't take advantage of a shaky night by Leafs goalie James Reimer, who littered the ice with rebounds, before allowing an empty-netter.

"We were a little sluggish," said center John Tavares, who scored the goal that made it 4-3. "We battled back, but we made too many mistakes and dug ourselves too deep a hole early."

Rangers - There was little for even the sometimes Grinch-like coach John Tortorella to be unhappy with about his team at the Christmas break. Back-to-back 4-2 wins against the Islanders and Flyers moved the Blueshirts to the top of the Atlantic Division and within one point of Boston for the Eastern Conference lead. Though the defense has been riddled by injuries, the Rangers have been solid in their own zone while producing more than enough goals.

Not that Tortorella is satisfied.

"I'm happy the way we're playing and that we're grabbing points, but first place now really means nothing," he said after Friday's win. "They don't give out playoff bids or anything else on Dec. 23."

Who's Hot - Islanders forward Matt Moulson is on the way to his third straight 30-goal season. He has five points in his last four games and leads the Isles with 16 goals. … Rangers forward Marian Gaborik has scored six times during a four-game goal streak that moved him into the League lead with 21. Defenseman Michael Del Zotto scored the winner against the Isles, has three points in his last two games and leads Rangers defensemen with 19 points. He's also tops on the team at plus-22.

Injury Report - Concussions have sidelined four Islanders: goaltender Al Montoya, defenseman Steve Staios and forwards Brian Rolston and David Ullstrom. Also sidelined are goaltender Rick DiPietro (groin) and forward Jay Pandolfo (broken foot). … The Rangers are without defensemen Marc Staal and Michael Sauer due to concussions. They are also without blueliner Steve Eminger for several weeks with a shoulder injury and have been without defenseman Jeff Woywitka due to a foot injury. Forward Wojtek Wolski (groin) is nearly ready to return.

Stat Pack - All three games between the teams this season have ended the same way - with the winning team hitting the empty net for a 4-2 victory. … The Islanders have been outscored 106-75, excluding shootouts. But most of that minus-31 figure stems from third-period troubles. The Isles have scored a League-low 19 goals in the third period, while allowing 39.

Puck Drop - The Rangers won their last four games before the break despite missing three veteran defensemen - Staal, Eminger and Woywitka. Three newcomers - Anton Stralman, Stu Bickel and Tim Erixon - have held the fort in their absence.

That kind of depth is the mark of a winning team.

"It's huge. You need that to have a successful team," captain Ryan Callahan said. "With a team, there's going to be injuries and guys missing games throughout the year. In order for the team to keep winning and have success, we have to have guys who can step in and play. Our d-core has done that all year. "

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