Saturday, October 15, 2011
W2W4: Islanders vs. Rangers
By Katie Strang
At a Glance: The Rangers enter Saturday’s match against rival Islanders winless after their first two games in Europe. Meanwhile, the Islanders have collected two straight wins, the last of which was a 5-1 rout of Tampa Bay fueled by a four-point performance from 21-year-old John Tavares.
Surprise in net: Although Al Montoya has been stellar in his first three starts, Islanders coach Jack Capuano awarded the nod to 36-year-old Russian goaltender Evgeni Nabokov. Nabokov will play his first game as an Islander and first NHL game in almost 17 months. The move is a surprising one given Montoya’s consistency in net. The 26-year-old former Ranger, taken sixth overall in the 2004 draft, is 2-1-0 this season with a 1.35 goals against average AND .953 save percentage.
Revive the Rivalry: Last season’s series between the two teams was a lopsided one with the Rangers winning four out of six games. In all but one of the six games the winning team scored six or more goals.
Depleted D: The Rangers are still without top defenseman Marc Staal (post-concussion headaches) and second-pair d-man Mike Sauer (shoulder). Rounding out the Rangers' back end will be 20-year-old Tim Erixon, son of former Ranger Jan Erixon, and new addition Jeff Woywitka. Woywitka was claimed off waivers from Montreal by the Rangers last week while the team was in Europe.
Islanders injuries: While the Rangers are battling some serious injuries, the Islanders are dealing with some of their own, most notably that of goaltender Rick DiPietro. DiPietro suffered a concussion after taking an errant shot off the facemask in practice earlier this week. Enforcer Trevor Gillies (groin) was activated off injured reserve Saturday, but is not expected to be in the lineup. Nino Niederreiter and Milan Jurcina are also out with groin injuries.
Step by Step: Saturday will likely be the first live-game glimpse of second-year center Derek Stepan playing on a line with elite playmaker Brad Richards and sniper Marian Gaborik. Stepan, who will move to the left wing, practiced with the pair during practice this week.
Without Wolski: One of the reasons Stepan will get a shot at filling that role? Left wing Wojtek Wolski will be scratched for Saturday’s game while he continues to recover from a preseason groin injury. He skated with the team this morning, but coach John Tortorella ruled him out.
Bottom Line: With the Islanders off to a strong start, Saturday’s game offers a chance to re-ignite a rivalry that has been one-sided in recent years. The Rangers will look to spoil their two-game streak and a grab their first win of the season.