Outside of the spectacle, the freezing cold, and the novelty of tonight's game at Yankee Stadium, there is the competitive reality: The New York Islanders dug themselves a hole in November and December -- an annual rite, it seems -- so they need to win games like this one more than most.
Tonight's outdoor meeting with the Rangers is the first of two consecutive (they meet Friday at Madison Square Garden) and follows a win at the Garden last week. The eighth-place Isles are nine points behind the second-place Rangers and every other team in the Metro has at least one game in hand. A recent uptick in their results still has them five points behind the next Metro team.
The slogging will be hard, they'll need to conquer their opponents and Lady Luck -- and the impact of every slip-up is multiplied by what they've done and failed to do to land where they are now.
ESPN New York, in a rare and surely accidental moment of posting original content about the New York Islanders, had team sage Evgeni Nabokov describing the situation like so:
"Every team is going to go through ups and certain downs. I think we can come out of it pretty quick and I think it’s been a great month for the team. What’s hurt us is what happened two months ago, when we were losing ten in a row," Nabokov said. "We have to climb out of it and it’s not easy. Now every game feels like the last game. That’s what makes it tough."
Rangers (28-23-3, 2nd/Metro) @ Islanders (21-26-8, 8th/Metro)
Yankee Stadium, home of your New York Islanders
7:40 p.m. EST | NBCS, TSN | WCBS 880 AM, 103.9 FM, WRHU, WRCN
NHL Network pre-game: 6 p.m.
Outdoor veterans: Blueshirt Banter
The Lay of the Land
The Islanders enter the game at a typically rocky time: Losers of three straight (though Saturday's was a shootout loss, and in fact should have been an overtime victory before the NHL war room intervened), they have Lubomir Visnovsky back but appear to be without Travis Hamonic for even longer.
Their offense is clicking, led by the dangerous top line but supplemented by recent secondary scoring, but the back half has continued to bleed goals. Evgeni Nabokov theoretically helps that, but he's coming off IR for the second time this season.
Late lineup decisions will be announced on the choice in goal as well as Matt Donovan vs. Matt Carkner. [Update: Indeed, Donovan is in, and Nabokov starts.]
At the other end, Henrik Lundqvist is definitely in goal for the Rangers, whose own recent improvement has them where they probably belong: as second-best in the Metro. But they have their own theater going on, with a recent trade for right-shooting defenseman Kevin Klein creating implied pressure on UFA Dan Girardi's extension negotiations, and captain Ryan Callahan's negotiations looking sluggish.
The Islanders have won two of the three meetings this season, each by a 5-3 score. Can they expect to make it three and then four of five by Friday night?
At the risk of making every night the "biggest game of the season," they just about have to.
Leave your First Islanders Goal picks over here.
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