It’s been 140 days since the New York Rangers have played a game.
They were in Colorado, battling back against the Avalanche, where Pavel Buchnevich tied the game with 13 seconds remaining in the third period. Less than 12 hours later, the NHL season was put on pause.
Tonight, they will return to action in an exhibition game against the New York Islanders. Real, live hockey. And although it is an exhibition and won’t count going forward, this is the Rangers’ one chance to clean up some things and prepare for a tough series coming up against the Carolina Hurricanes.
The last time the Rangers played the Isles was on February 25th, fresh off the trade deadline, where Mika Zibanejad came through in overtime off of a great feed from Artemi Panarin.
Panarin also registered a goal, alongside other goalscorers Brett Howden and Greg McKegg. It was a thriller, and one where we sent the Islanders fans home unhappy.
But tonight at 8:00 pm we won’t be hearing the “Yes!” chants of Nassau Coliseum, or the “Goal!” chants of Madison Square Garden. This rivalry matchup will take place in the Eastern Conference ‘bubble’: Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.
Playing without fans will be a new experience for the players, but once the initial shock is gone, the Rangers will rely on their previous regular-season success against the Isles to propel them to an exhibition victory.
David Quinn confirmed that both Libor Hajek and Brendan Lemieux will be in the lineup tonight (Lemieux is suspended for the first two games of the series against the Hurricanes). He’ll dress as an extra forward, while Hajek will be the 7th defenseman.
The Rangers went 3-1 against the Islanders this season, outscoring them at a ratio of 15 to 11. Alexandar Georgiev started all 4 games and put up 3 very strong performances (including impressive numbers at Nassau Coliseum), but Igor Shesterkin will likely get the nod tonight (David Quinn will confirm prior to the game tonight) to prepare him for the qualifying rounds, where he has a high chance of being the starter between the pipes.
For the first time since the 2013-14 season, the Rangers had a winning season record against the Isles, which is definitely a confidence booster going into the exhibition game (and a chip on the Islanders’ shoulder).
Players to Watch
Rangers: Artemi Panarin
He was missed in the lone loss against the Islanders back on January 21st due to injury, but Panarin was a clear difference-maker in this rivalry this season, registering 8 points in just 3 games, including a monster 5 point performance in his Islanders-Rangers debut.
Panarin has the ability to elevate the games of the teammates surrounding him and did not disappoint against the Isles this season.
It’ll be nice to get a preview of playoff Panarin in this matchup as well.
Islanders: Mat Barzal
Although Barzal was rather quiet against the Blueshirts this season, only grabbing points in two of the four games he played, Barzal is a very quick and impactful player. He’s very dangerous on the powerplay, despite the 17% success rate of the Isles power play this season.
He’s also the reigning NHL Fastest Skater, which he earned at the All-Star Skills Competition in January. Barzal could be a difference-maker for the Isles as they head into their series against the Florida Panthers.
It’s important to take into account the large period of time that players weren’t skating or training as intensely as they would in a normal season. The game might be sloppy, a bit slower paced. But no matter the outcome of the game tonight, Rangers hockey is back, and this game will set the stage for an exciting series against the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday.
It’s time to play some bubble hockey!
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