Battle of New York: Keys for Rangers to Best Islanders
The New York Rangers are one of the hottest teams in the NHL and have had an amazing run over the last month. Alain Vigneault's Broadway Blueshirts have won five in a row and 13 of their last 14 games, but they still sit behind the New York Islanders in the Metropolitan Division.
Tuesday's matchup between two bitter rivals is arguably the biggest game the two teams have played in quite some time. As it stands, the Rangers and Islanders are on a crash course to face each other in the playoffs for the first time since O.J. Simpson was making headlines for his actions off the gridiron.
Earlier this season, the Isles roasted the Blueshirts at Madison Square Garden like spiced nuts on the corner of 34th and 9th. Both teams are drastically different than they were back in October, and here are keys for the Rangers to follow to win the latest Battle of New York.
Drive the Net and Tie Pucks Up Along the Boards
The Rangers like to drive to the net in order to create second-opportunity scoring chances. They also like to use set plays that involve dumping the puck in while a speedy forward retrieves it and sets up shop along the boards.
In these situations, the Rangers have had the benefit of drawing penalties, and they are going to try and draw as many penalties as possible. For starters, the Rangers have the 10th best power play in the NHL, and the Islanders' penalty-killing unit ranks 26th out of 30 teams.
The Rangers have the NHL's fourth-best offense, scoring 3.13 goals a game, and against the Islanders, they could have a field day if they draw calls and convert on the man advantage with frequency.
Exploit the Use of the Last Change
The New York Rangers are at a point where they can roll four lines with confidence and success. The team has received contributions from all four lines, including six goals from Lee Stempniak and five from J.T. Miller, both of whom are currently skating on the fourth line.
That kind of depth allows Vigneault to evenly distribute ice time, and each player ends up having more energy during their next shift. The home team has the advantage of sending its line out last, and manipulating the matchups is going to be key against a team like the Islanders.
Although Isles general manager Garth Snow upgraded the defense by adding Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk this past offseason, there is still room for improvement on the back end.
This weakness is something the Rangers can exploit by sending out their top lines exclusively for offensive-zone draws when the Isles' third D-man pairing is on, and Vigneault can go back to business as usual if possession is lost and the puck is cleared.
Use Speed to Generate Offense in Transition
On average, the New York Islanders on allow the second-fewest amount of shots against per game in the NHL, and heading into Tuesday, the Rangers need to be cognizant of this. The Islanders have been particularly successful because they do a solid job throwing players into shooting lanes and collapsing down low.
The Islanders have blocked 653 shots this season, fifth most in the NHL. When you combine the statistics, it is very interesting to see that the Islanders have allowed the 10th-most goals per game, and it should be something the Rangers take into consideration.
To be successful, the Rangers will need to play a textbook transition game that includes defensemen joining the rush and pinching in down low when available.
The Rangers have a bevy of speedy wingers such as Chris Kreider, Carl Hagelin and Rick Nash distributed on each line, so there should be no issue generating offense on every rush up the ice.
Have a Forward Set Up in Front of Jaroslav Halak at All Times
Jaroslav Halak is playing very well for the New York Islanders this season, and he's been a big reason for the franchise's turnaround in 2014-15.
This season, Halak has allowed 69 goals on 801 shots, and the majority of them have gone in with him standing at the top of his crease. Sporting Charts' heat map illustrates that the majority of goals scored have come from pucks shot on the net mouth and outside of it between the hash marks.
What this indicates is that Halak is giving up goals when he is screened or when the puck is deflected past him.
The Rangers have a number of big boys in their lineup—Kreider at 6'3" and 230 pounds, Kevin Hayes at 6'5" and 225 pounds and Rick Nash at 6'4" and 219 pounds—so there will be multiple players who can try and get the Rangers on the board by occupying the "Tomas Holmstrom suite."
Shutdown the Isles' Two-Headed Monster of John Tavares and Kyle Okposo
The New York Islanders' top line consists of Josh Bailey, John Tavares and Kyle Okposo. Tavares and Okposo, the team's best two players up front, sit No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, atop the team's leaders in points, but both players have picked up a good portion of their points away from Nassau Coliseum.
Of Tavares' 39 points, 23 of them have come on the road, and Okposo has picked up 19 of his 37 points away from home. The Rangers are going to be able to control matchups on Tuesday, and it will be important for Vigneault to rely on Ryan McDonagh to shadow the Isles' top forwards in as many situations as possible.
Kevin Klein could find himself in situations where he has to go up against Tavares and Okposo, but he is more than capable of shutting them down by engaging both players physically and keeping them to the outside.
Shutting down forwards like Tavares and Okposo is sometimes easier said than done, but the Blueshirts' blue line is up for the task.