We’ve got to look forward to tomorrow night and we’d like to keep this little streak we started now, keep this going into Christmas and have a good two-day break on a four-game winning streak. That would be a good way to finish off the so-called first half or whatever it is before Christmas.”
Brad Richards via The NY Daily Dews
Opponent Blog: Eyes On Isles
Winners of two straight, tonight at the World’s Most Famous Arena (700: PM) the New York Rangers square off against another Atlantic division opponent – part of a three-games-in-four-nights stretch against divisional opponents before Christmas that started with Tuesday night’s 4-1 victory over the Devils – in the New York Islanders. The Blueshirts have split their first two games against the Islanders so far this season, however both contests were at Nassau Coliseum.
Marian Gaborik enters play having scored four goals and five points in the previous two games and leads the Rangers with eight multi-point games this season. Having recorded his 600th point on Tuesday, Gaborik looks to notch his 600th career NHL assists as his next milestone.
For the Islanders, they’ve won two games in a row, a pair of shootout victories over Winnipeg and Minnesota. They have won three straight only one time this season, back in mid-October that included a victory against the Rangers.
Pre-game notes and the keys to victory after the jump.
Injuries: Marc Staal (concussion), Michael Sauer (concussion), Wojtek Wolski (sports hernia) and Steve Eminger (shoulder) are all OUT for tonight’s game. Jeff Woywitka (foot) will be a game-time decision but after taking another puck off his already-injured foot in today’s practice, it’s extremely doubtful Woywitka will suit up. Tim Erixon will play again if Woywitka can’t go.
Scratches: Sean Avery and Erik Christensen
KEYS TO VICTORY
- MATCH THE INSENSITY: No matter their record or how poorly they play, when the Islanders see the Rangers on their schedule, they play the game as if it were Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals. The Rangers cannot afford to sleepwalk during 40 minutes like they did against New Jersey Tuesday night. They must come out of the gate and match the Islanders toe-to-toe.
- SUPPORT BIRON: Strictly a naked-eye observation here: In some of his starts – including Phoenix – the Rangers seem to have more defensive breakdowns with Biron in net. Not sure if they’re relying on him too much to be the difference, however a return to structure in their own zone would benefit any goalie. The Rangers need to tighten up and make sure everything is kept to the outside. Biron’s 20-4-1 career record against the Fish Sticks should inspire some confidence.
- NEUTRALIZE THE TOP TALENT: After John Tavares (26 points), P.A. Parenteau (25 points), and Matt Moulson (25 points), the most points by an Islanders forward is 15 by Michael Grabner. Kyle Okposo should be one of their elite talents – six points in the month of December is a slight improvement – but still hasn’t recaptured his game. If the McDonagh/Girardi pair can take out the Islanders top guys, it’s a major advantage.
- RIDE THE YOUNG GUNS: Rookies Stu Bickel and Tim Erixon played important minutes – including time in the 3rd period – in the Rangers’ last victory. If Tortorella can trust his very young 3rd defense pair – whom he gave some accolades to following Tuesday night’s game – to play then it will slightly take the burden off the overtaxed top four.
**PREDICTION: The Rangers score two in the first period – including a Dubinsky garbage goal – and win the game 3-1.
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