At a glance: In a Valentine’s Day rematch with little love between the two New York rivals, the Rangers host the slumping Islanders at Madison Square Garden for the second time in one week. The Blueshirts aim to collect their fourth straight win while the Islanders hope to snap a five-game skid that has them plummeting to the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.
Boyle is back: Rangers forward Brian Boyle is back in the lineup after being scratched the past three games. The 6-foot-7 center, whose struggles earned him a benching by coach John Tortorella, said he’s excited to play and prove he can still contribute: “I know I can play better and I’m going to.” To make room for him on the roster, winger Chris Kreider will be a healthy scratch.
Familiar face: Rangers backup netminder Martin Biron will get the start against his former team Thursday. Biron is 21-4-1 in 28 career games played against the Islanders.
Tavares taking the lead: Leading the way for the Islanders is star center John Tavares. The former first overall pick in the 2009 draft enters Thursday’s game on a three-game goal-scoring streak. The 22-year-old also has seven goals in the last eight games and ranks second among NHL forwards with an average 22:05 of ice time, only behind New Jersey’s Ilya Kovalchuk.
Rookie sensation: Rangers prospect J.T. Miller hopes to replicate the success he had the last time he faced the Islanders at Madison Square Garden. The 19-year-old tallied twice in his Garden debut, only his second NHL game, and has a lot riding on Thursday’s contest. The rivalry match against the Islanders will be Miller’s fifth NHL game, after which the Rangers must decide whether to keep him around or send him back to their AHL affiliate in Connecticut. Miller playing in his 6th game would trigger the first year of his entry-level contract.
Goaltending woes: Too bad the Islanders’ trade for Tim Thomas was nothing more than a salary cap transaction. Honestly, they could use the former Vezina Trophy winner between the pipes. Neither starter Evgeni Nabokov (4-5-1, .897, 3.00) or backup Rick DiPietro (0-2-0, .842, 4.60) have save percentages above .900 and the Islanders currently rank 29th in the league with goals against per game (3.58).
Special teams: One of the bright spots of the season for the Islanders has been the success of their special teams. They rank third in the league on the penalty-kill (89.5%) and sixth in the league on the power-play (25.5%)