Monday, December 26, 2011

NYI @ NYR Game Preview: Tavares and Co. Return to MSG, Seek Elusive Win

People seem to like the newly revamped Madison Square Garden, myself included. 

That is, assuming you don't play for the New York Islanders, who didn't exactly have a great time there last week, when they dropped a 4-2 contest. 
The Isles were very sharp to start the game, but could not maintain that for 60 minutes. Their inability to do so resulted in a Ranger win. 

Granted, they're missing Al Montoya and David Ullstrom. No disrespect to either of those guys, but their absence is not the reason the Islanders have lost two in a row. 

Evgeni Nabokov, who will probably get the nod tonight, has been steady. The defense in front of him, not so much. Anyone blaming the goaltender needs to take a closer look at the way this team has played all season long. 

The defense, as stated above, is simply not deep enough. Travis Hamonic has impressed, but other than that, there hasn't been much to smile about. 

Captain Mark Streit hasn't been himself lately and is committing costly errors with regularity. Milan Jurcina has moments where he resembles Ken Morrow and others when he looks like Freddy Meyer. Mike Mottau's been a disaster from the get-go; he's posted a minus rating in 12 of the 26 contests he's played this season. Andrew MacDonald hasn't been the same since coming off that injury. 

I could go on, but I think the point's been made and then some.

Unlike the Isles, the Rangers have been nothing short of fantastic in their own zone. Guys like Dan Girardi, Michael Del Zotto and Ryan McDonagh have really stepped up for the Blueshirts, who are still missing Marc Staal (concussion). This team can also score goals and they get reliable goaltending, regardless of whether it's Henrik Lundquist or Martin Biron between the pipes. 

The New York Islanders have their work cut out for them tonight, bottom line. They're facing a red-hot team and are as cold as ice themselves. 


To their credit, this defense has gotten it's act together at times this season and, if the Islanders wish to snap out of this funk, they've got to be up to the task tonight. That starts with Mark Streit, who just so happens to be the captain of this team. He needs to lead by example and then maybe, just maybe, A-Mac and Juice will follow suit. The performance of Streit and the rest of the Isles' blueline will, to a large extent, determine the outcome of tonight's game. 

Players to Watch

John Tavares

He has just three goals in his last 20-plus contests, but he scored in a 5-3 loss to Toronto on Friday night and will, no doubt, be looking for more tonight. Tavares has 16 points in 14 career games against the Rangers, including a hat trick earlier this season. 

Mark Streit

As I just mentioned, Streit has to lead by example tonight. It's time for him to shake off the rust and be a game-breaker for this team. If Streit plays well, and I think he will, the Islanders can win this one. 

Nino Niederreiter

The apprenticeship is over. Nino's had a handful of games to get his legs out from under him. Now he needs to give this team a boost and create offense, something he's capable of doing. Let's see the player that lit up the WHL last season, the one that's projected to be a scoring threat at this level. No one's asking him to put up 40 goals. Niederreiter has to start chipping in though. I think he will tonight. 

Comments are welcome.


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