Where they are is almost hopelessly far from first place in the Metro -- 16 points behind Washington -- and tied with each other at 57 points in the battle for home ice as the division's second seed. Both have suffered through "meh" funks of late, with the Isles 5-5-0 in their last 10, but the Manhattan dwellers (4-5-1 in their last 10) have showed more signs of snapping out of it over the last week.
The Rangers are older, a bit cap-crunched, and thus looking at a proverbial window that could close any season now. The Islanders are younger, with some cap room, but looking at the possibility that some of their key younger players won't become the Next Thing before their window ever opens.
The Rangers currently hold the tiebreaker due to a game in hand. But come game 82, their head-to-head results could matter on who hosts whom, assuming they remain in the Metro's middle playoff spots. In the previous meeting, the Isles won only via shootout.
One of the Isles' youngsters, Brock Nelson, leads the team in goals (17) as he steadily improves his shot and builds a case for fantastic third contract three summers from now. Another, Anders Lee, cashed in last year's production for a four-year contract but has struggled to generate as many shots nor find as much shooting luck as last season.
The Isles had a feel-good win against a play-bad team two nights ago against the Blue Jackets, where Nelson capped his hat trick with an empty net goal. History shows John Tavares usually doesn't give up the team goal scoring lead for long, so tonight would be a great time for him to shake his slump and take it back.
Speaking of Nelson, who returned to center last game after being bumped to wing so Mikhail Grabovsky could play in his preferred pivot:
"He’s always been a center to me," Capuano said of Nelson. "You’ve got a guy who’s 6’3 in the middle, it’s tough to take out. He’s so smart and at the same time I can utilize Brock anywhere we want to use him. We can put him on right wing, left wing or down the middle. I like the way he defends, your centermen have to have tremendous hockey sense, they have to have the ability to make plays not only offensively, but defensively and he can do that for us."
The Isles are set to start their number one in Jaroslav Halak. The Rangers will start theirs in Henrik Lundqvist. Otherwise the Isles have their same lineup. The Rangers may be without Dan Girardi, in which case Dylan McIlrath would step in. [Update: Yep.]
Both coaches expect "battle hard." Both think they should be better/ah. Should be loud. Should be intense. Should be fun. You like fun, don't you?
Leave your First Islanders Goal picks for tonight here, or forever hold your peace.