Rangers Return From Bye To Host Rival Isles

The Rangers return to action after a mandatory five-day hiatus today with a matinee event against the Islanders at Madison Square Garden.

The teams last met mid-October, the Blueshirts eighth game of the season and the Islanders prevailed 4-3, in a shootout. This afternoons’ contest kicks off three consecutive against Metropolitan opponents and begins a stretch of eight games in 13 nights. The Rangers presently sit in the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, just three points ahead of the Islanders who are on the outside looking in on the playoff picture. It will continue to be tight as the season heads into the second half and these head-to-head matchups may be the difference as to whether you get into the playoffs or not. The two teams will play two more times in the regular season, both at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

[Watch Rangers-Islanders Today on MSG & MSG GO]

The Blueshirts are 5-4-1 in their last 10 games. Not a disaster by any means but there are some disturbing trends that will have to be addressed as this thing moves along. This 10-game record is what it is due largely to the spectacular play of both goaltenders Henrik Lundqvist and Ondrej Pavelec. It is well documented that great goaltending is an absolute must when it comes to being competitive during the regular season. With an off the chart combined save percentage of .962 Lundqvist and Pavelec have certainly provided that.

Henrik Lundqvist reflects on the bye week and talks about being selected for the fourth time in his career to the NHL All-Star Game.

That is the good news. The not so good news is that the Rangers are -59 in shots on goal and have scored just 19 goals in regulation over this 10 game stretch. Being a one-dimensional team won’t work and the Blueshirts have to find a way to spend less time in their end of the ice. That would certainly take some pressure off their goaltenders, and by spending time in the opponents end goals should come with somewhat more frequency.

As of yesterday, it sounds like Kevin Hayes will be at best 50-50 to play as a result of taking a hit early in the Rangers last game against Las Vegas. Pavel Buchnevich will return to the lineup and Brandan Smith with be replaced for the second consecutive game on defense by Steven Kampfer. Chris Kreider remains sidelined indefinitely and will miss his sixth consecutive game due to surgery as result of blood clotting issues.

The break should rejuvenate Buchnevich who has hit a bit of a wall, going without a goal in his last 10 games. The 22-year-old is still in the stages of infancy with regards to a career in the NHL and dealing with the grind of the regular season takes time. Kampfer brings a quicker look to the back end and a more reliable puck movement game. As far as Smith is concerned, according to head coach Alain Vigneault, “…his first half has not been what we expected or what we needed.” Hard to disagree.

Alain Vigneault believes the Rangers are well-placed to make a run in the second half of the season and find a way to get back into the postseason.

3 KEYS TO RANGERS-ISLANDERS

1. D-Zone Simple

Today’s game is played at such tremendous speed that often times there is very little time to make a play. As such keeping it simple becomes paramount. Particularly in the defensive zone. The Rangers have been guilty of being a little too cute in their own end and as a result, have spent too much time there. Keep it simple.

2. Need More

Rick Nash has zero points in his last nine games, Kevin Shattenkirk has one assist in his last nine games and Mats Zuccarello has one goal in his last 12 games. More is needed from the top offensive players.

Brady Skjei, Ryan McDonagh and Kevin Shattenkirk discuss how their five-day hiatus allowed them to reset and re-energize, while itching to return to winning ways on the ice.

3. Power Play

The power play has connected just twice in the last nine games. At worst case, the man up situation establishes offensive momentum. At best case, it scores. Neither of which has happened with enough regularity in recent games.

[Watch Rangers-Islanders Today on MSG & MSG GO]

The Garden of Dreams Foundation helps kids facing obstacles in the Tri-State area, including Rangers fan Taylor Ryan who is battling a rare blood disorder called Langerhans cell histiocytosis.