At a glance: Both the New York Rangers and the New York Islanders are on the outside looking in as they toil among the bottom half of the Eastern Conference standings. The two Metropolitan Division rivals clash Friday night at Madison Square Garden in their second meeting of the season. The Rangers are coming off a 4-3 shootout loss to the Penguins on Wednesday night. The Islanders, with only one win in their past 14 games, are coming off one of their worst meltdowns of the season after blowing a two-goal lead and falling in the shootout to Tampa Bay on Tuesday night.
Mixing things up: The Rangers previewed some interesting new line combinations in Friday’s morning skate, presumably an attempt by coach Alain Vigneault to spark some offense. The newly-configured top line includes Mats Zuccarello, Derek Stepan and Rick Nash, while the second trio is comprised of Chris Kreider, Derick Brassard and Carl Hagelin. Meanwhile, recently-recalled forward J.T. Miller will center the team’s third line with veteran pivot Brad Richards moving to left wing.
Back in action: The Islanders will return energetic forward Casey Cizikas to the lineup Friday. Cizikas sat out the past two games with a jaw injury, though it proved not to be too serious. Hulking defenseman Matt Carkner will replace youngster Aaron Ness on defense, providing the Islanders with some more size on the back end. Evgeni Nabokov will start in net.
OK to play: Though Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist had a stiff neck following Wednesday’s overtime collision with Pittsburgh’s Chris Kunitz, he will make his season-high eighth consecutive start Friday night with Cam Talbot backing him up.
Nash not producing: Nash’s game has recently taken a detour, with the top-billed Rangers winger registering only two points (one goal, one assist) in the past six games. Vigneault expressed confidence that he will turn it around, and soon, saying Wednesday: “I think he’s real close ... the will is there.”