The Rangers and Islanders do battle Thursday night at Nassau Coliseum. Since we’ve got two area teams slugging it out, we’re upping our key factors to watch for by one. Yeah, we’re crazy like that. Here’s what to watch for when the puck drops.
The Islanders may have snapped their skid, but they still aren’t lighting up the scoreboard, topping the two-goal plateau just once since Oct. 27. The last time the Isles took on the Rangers it produced a season-high six-goal performance, so maybe tonight’s matchup will jump start the offense. One player who loves to see the Blueshirts? Blake Comeau. For his four-year career, Comeau has put up nine goals and a point per game against the boys from Broadway. Considering he has just two assists in the past 14 games, I’m sure coach Jack Capuano would love to see a breakout game tonight.
As we discussed yesterday, the Islanders have been hopeless with the extra man, failing to score a PP goal in their last eight contests -- a stretch that spans 29 power plays. Only problem about snapping out of it tonight is that the Rangers have flaunted one of the league’s best PKs. Since Nov. 5, only two teams have hung a power-play marker on the Blueshirts: The Caps and the Lightning. The Bolts actually burned them for three PP tallies, but against Steven Stamkos, three goals may have been getting off easy.
According to reports from Rangers practice Wednesday, Sean Avery will skate on the top line with Erik Christensen and Marian Gaborik. It’s one of the few combinations Rangers head coach John Tortorella hasn’t tried this season, but it’s an intriguing one. Gaborik has usually suffered from receiving all of the defensive attention whenever he’s on the ice. The one thing Avery is best at? Distracting the opposition and getting them to do something dumb. (How'd that motion go again, James Wisniewski?) If the pest can even prompt a momentary lapse in the Islanders’ defensive focus, it could be enough for Gaborik to strike. Of course, Avery will still need to make plays with the puck and feed the sniper. And as Rangers fans should know by now, there’s no guarantee this line lasts the whole game.
The First Is The Worst ... for Isles
The Islanders still haven’t won a game after giving up the first goal this season, so needless to say the first marker will be an important one. A brief lapse in the first period Monday night cost the Rangers the opening goal against the Penguins, who then extended it to a three-goal margin and never looked back. In a rivalry game like Thursday night’s, emotions are going to be high and the Blueshirts will want to squelch any early momentum for the home team. If the Rangers can strike first, it would be a big blow to the Islanders and their fans … who are well aware of how the rest of that script has played out this season.