Finally, for the first time this season, one of the premier rivalries in hockey takes center stage as the Islanders visit the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Monday night (7 pm ET, MSG, MSG+).
After having to wait more than half a season to meet, this will be the first of three meetings over the next eight days.
“It’ll be a mini three-game series,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said, expecting a playoff-like atmosphere. “It’s weird that we haven’t seen them all year and then see them three times. I don’t prefer that.”
The New York rivalry has taken on a bit of a new feel over the last two years. The Islanders are the dominant team in the New York City area after playing second fiddle to the Rangers for much of the last three decades.
Entering Monday night’s matchup, the Islanders own the fifth-best record in the NHL despite nagging offensive issues that have made finding the back of the net problematic.
Over their last nine games, the Islanders have scored more than three goals just twice.
Yet they still have the top defense in the Eastern Conference, allowing 111 goals in 43 games under Trotz’s resolute system. Only the Dallas Stars have allowed fewer in the NHL this season.
The Rangers provide a much different style of hockey, one that is offensively marauding and plenty attractive when the rebuilding side is clicking on all cylinders.
Their efforts this season have been led by star winger Artemi Panarin, who has 62 points (24 G, 38 A) through 44 games. It’s the best start by a Ranger since the legendary Wayne Gretzky put up 59 points in his first 43 games with the team during the 1996-97 season.
His presence is allowing the likes of former Islanders center Ryan Strome to put up career numbers on Broadway with 41 points in 44 games. His previous career-high was 50 in 81 games with the Islanders during the 2014-15 season.
The Rangers’ defense, however, has been the major factor as to why they sit at seventh place in the eight-team Metropolitan Division. Their 149 goals conceded ranks ninth-most in the NHL.
While Quinn tries to get consistent play out of his skaters, a goalie situation has developed within his ranks. The Rangers recalled top prospect Igor Shesterkin from Hartford last week, forcing the Rangers to carry three goaltenders with Henrik Lundqvist and Alexandar Georgiev already platooning.
There is a growing notion that Georgiev will be the odd man out soon enough, but he will get the start on Monday night against the Islanders. He’s 2-1 with a .967 save percentage and a 0.87 goals-against average against the Long Island side.
His play has provided a change of pace in a rivalry that has been largely dominated by the Islanders. Dating back to the 2014-15 season, they’ve won 16 of the last 21 meetings.