RANGERS vs. ISLANDERS, 7 pm
Madison Square Garden
MSG Network, 98.7 FM
Rangers vs Islanders, Game 1, Monday night at Madison Square Garden.
It has been a year and a day since these bitter rivals last faced one another, but they will come together Monday night on Broadway for their first matchup of the 2019-20 season, and for the opener of what amounts to a mini-series: The Blueshirts and Isles will clash three times in nine days, with Thursday's return match coming at Nassau Coliseum, followed by the pre-All-Star finale right back at the Garden on the following Tuesday.
"It's exciting," David Quinn said after his Rangers' morning skate at the Garden. "They're a deep team, they're good, they get great goaltending and they defend really well. So it's certainly going to be a challenging stretch for us."
"Going to be a pretty good atmosphere the next couple games," said Ryan Strome, who began his career with four seasons as an Islander. "We've got to be ready to go; we've got to grasp it. Should be a fun night."
The Rangers have won four straight games in front of the Garden fans, and have four games remaining before the All-Star break, all within the Metropolitan Division, against whom the Blueshirts are 8-1 in their last nine games. (The Columbus Blue Jackets visit the Garden on Sunday, in between the Islander games.) The Rangers right now are looking up at their rivals in the division standings, but the teams have been neck-and-neck since back before Thanksgiving: Since Nov. 23, the Rangers have earned 26 points in the standings, the Islanders 25.
The Blueshirts will begin this mini-series giving the goalcrease to Alexandar Georgiev, who is out to continue his mastery against the Islanders. The 24-year-old blanked the Isles for his first career shutout, a 29-save night just before Thanksgiving last season, and in his short career has seen three games -- two starts -- against the Isles, stopping 58 of the 60 shots he has seen, a save percentage of .967 to go along with an 0.87 goals-against average.
"Yeah, but every game is a new game," Georgiev said on Monday, as he prepared to take his 20th start this season. "I try not to think about the history of who I play against."
The Rangers may not have Pavel Buchnevich, who skipped the team's morning skate as he fights a flu bug; Quinn said his winger would be a gametime decision. Marc Staal was among the 22 Rangers who did skate, but his status remains up in the air. With Libor Hajek's return to the lineup on Saturday in St. Louis, the Rangers maintained six healthy defensemen in their rotation.
If Buchnevich can't go Monday night, Phil Di Giuseppe, called up from Hartford on Sunday, would step in.
Coming off a loss to the defending champions in St. Louis, the Rangers foresee a similar challenge in front of them against an Islander team that, like the Blues, relies on its defensive structure and is one of the stingiest in the League -- so much so that Quinn said on Monday morning that the Isles and Blues "are carbon copies of each other in a lot of ways."
While the Blues are fifth in goals-against per game, the Islanders are fourth, allowing an average of 2.56 a night.
"Pretty similar in that sense, where it's just a simple, simple game and they wait for you to make mistakes," Jacob Trouba said. "The Islanders are in that same mold; they're really good at it, and you can't get frustrated in the game. … You get a little impatient and try to do something that's probably not there, and that's when they get their chances and that's where the advantage is in the game for them."
"Against teams like the Islanders and St. Louis, you've got to pay a price to get inside. You've got to have a physical mentality offensively," said the Head Coach. "We've got to be more threatening from an offensive standpoint. That doesn't mean making high-risk plays; that means earning ice."
It has been just past a year since the Islanders last visited the Garden, and perhaps that time is all that could allay the bitterness of how that last visit ended -- the Rangers dominated the Isles in the third period and outshot them 17-1, but the Islanders' 1 found the back of the net off the stick of Josh Bailey with just 1:26 left for a 4-3 win. The Rangers answered back with a 2-1 win in Brooklyn two days later to split the season the series between the teams.
More recently, the Isles -- who lost defenseman Adam Pelech to an Achilles injury a week ago, and who have Casey Cizikas pegged as a gametime decision for Monday night -- have scored just eight goals over their last five games, but are 2-0-1 in their last three, the most recent an overtime loss to the Bruins on Saturday in Brooklyn. Mathew Barzal had a goal and an assist, his 10th multi-point game adding to his team-best total of 37 points this season (17-20--37).
It was the 22nd one-goal game the Islanders have played this season; they have won 15 of them.
Semyon Varlamov made 30 saves against Boston and will be back in the Islanders' nets at the Garden. The first-year Isle has allowed just seven goals over his last four starts but has won just one of them.
10 Panarin -- 16 Strome -- 17 Fast
20 Kreider -- 93 Zibanead -- 89 Buchnevich*
21 Howden -- 72 Chytil -- 24 Kakko
38 Haley -- 14 McKegg -- 42 Smith
*Gametime decision (flu)
76 Skjei -- 8 Trouba
55 Lindgren -- 23 Fox
25 Hajek -- 77 DeAngelo
27 Lee -- 29 Nelson -- 7 Eberle
18 Beauvillier -- 13 Barzal -- 12 Bailey
28 Dal Colle -- 10 Brassard -- 14 Kuhnackl
32 Johnston -- 47 Komarov -- 17 Martin
2 Leddy -- 6 Pulock
25 D. Toews -- 24 Mayfield
8 Dobson -- 55 Boychuk
Tony DeAngelo on Monday was named the NHL's Second Star of the Week. The blueliner had seven points in the Rangers' three games, including his first career hat trick during a five-point night against the Devils on Thursday. DeAngelo is sixth in scoring among NHL defensemen, with 11 goals and 25 points this season.
The Rangers and Islanders are playing the first of four matchups this season on Jan. 13. Last season, they played the last of their four matchups on Jan. 12.
The Blueshirts have scored 38 goals in their last 10 games, dating to Dec. 22, the League's second-highest output in that span behind Tampa Bay's 43 goals. Thirteen different Rangers have scored during the stretch: Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad six times apiece, and Ryan Strome five.
Strome has 11 points (5-6--11) in the last eight games.
Since a franchise-record 17-game points streak, during which they went 15-0-2 from Oct. 12 to Nov. 23, the Islanders have won 11 and lost 11 in their last 22 games (11-9-2).
The Islanders have gone nine games without a power-play goal, and have had just power-play chances in their last four games, for a total of 95 man-advantages in 43 games this season -- by miles the fewest in the NHL (the Ducks have had the next-fewest, with 121). They also have gone shorthanded on 117 times, fewer than every team but Winnipeg (116).
Only the Dallas Stars (105) have allowed fewer goals than the Islanders' 110.
Semyon Varlamov is 8-2-1/1.84/.936 in away games this season.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Fil Chytil has points in four straight games against the Islanders, with goals in three of them. Chytil turned in his second multi-point game this season on Saturday in St. Louis; his goal was his 11th of the year in his 35th game, matching his total in 75 games a season ago.
Jordan Eberle will play in his 700th NHL game. The winger, whom the Islanders acquired in the summer of 2017 from Edmonton for Ryan Strome, has 14 points (3-11--14) in 18 career games against the Blueshirts.