Though they tallied 101 points in the 2015-16 season, merely making the playoffs is no longer acceptable for the New York Rangers. Last season brought some uncomfortable circumstances, namely a first-round playoff exit at the hands of the eventual champion Pittsburgh Penguins and failing to tally a win against the New York Islanders.
The Rangers can cross one of those redemption-related tasks off their list tonight, their very first contest of the season, as they host the Islanders at Madison Square Garden (7:00 PM, MSG).
The Rangers finished 0-3-1 against the Islanders last season, their rival’s first in Brooklyn. It was the first time since the rivalry’s commencement in 1972 that the Islanders took the entire set from the Rangers. To add further to the Rangers’ anger, the Islanders won their first playoff series since 1993, upsetting the Florida Panthers in a six-game set. Though they fell to Tampa Bay in five in the semifinal round, a select few believe the tide of momentum is beginning to shift in New York hockey.
In the first game of the preseason, which they finished 2-2-2, the Blueshirts earned at least a smidgen of redemption in a 5-2 victory on September 27. The Islanders took a 1-0 lead on a goal by newcomer and constant thorn in the Rangers’ side Jason Chimera, but three unanswered goals by Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider and Brandon Pirri gave the Rangers a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Dylan McIlrath and Dan Girardi tallied goals for the final margin, with Nick Leddy putting in one more for the Islanders. The Islander struck back with a 3-2 overtime on October 4.
The Rangers will be without Kevin Klein to start their season. The defenseman was diagnosed with back spasms and will miss opening night. Klein had the lone Rangers goal in the teams’ last regular season meeting, a 4-1 loss in their penultimate game on April 7. The Islanders put the game away with a trio of goals in the 2nd period, one each coming from Shane Prince and Casey Cizikas.
Though Klein will be out for the Rangers, a couple of their new offseason acquisitions will make their debuts on the blue line, as Nick Holden will be paired on the second line with Marc Staal, and Adam Clendening will line up with Brady Skeji. Captain Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi will man the top line for the Rangers, while the defense will be topped off with Henrik Lundqvist in net, the 11th consecutive season Lundqvist will serve as the Rangers’ opening day goaltender.
Several other Rangers will be making their official debuts on the forward lines as well, including preseason scoring stars Zibanejad and Pirri. Michael Grabner will also make his debut, manning the fourth line with Pirri and Jesper Fast, along with rookies Jimmy Vesey and Pavel Buchnevich with Vesey manning the top line alongside Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello.
The Islanders are expected to roll out a top line featuring their homegrown superstar John Tavares alongside veteran newcomers Chimera and Andrew Laad. Jaroslav Halak will start in net.
Stay tuned to blueshirtsnation.com for all the postgame coverage after the game!