Islanders Set to Open Season With A Pair Of Games Against The Rangers

Joshua Sarner/Icon Sportswire

Islanders vs Rangers.

When you think about the history of that rivalry and when a game between the two rivals is approaching, it sends chills up your spine and it gives you goosebumps.  It’s one of those things where once the schedule is announced, one of the first things that an Islanders or Rangers fan does is circle the dates of the Islanders/Rangers games.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, with last season ending in September, and with the NHL and the NHLPA working on a plan for this season, it was just a short time ago when we learned of this season’s schedule.  And when it was revealed that the Islanders’ season was going to start with back to-back-games  on Thursday and Saturday at Madison Square Garden, it didn’t take long for the juices to start flowing.

“I’ve been thinking about them for about three weeks,” said Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz.  “I think the Rangers have a very good hockey team.  They’ve got a really good roster just as every team in this division does.  They come out you with speed and skill.  They’re a bigger team than you probably think they are.  They’ve got a lot of elements.  What we have over them is probably a little experience.”

A lot of that experience comes from last season’s playoffs. 

Both the Islanders and Rangers were a part of the NHL’s return to play in the bubble but while the Blueshirts were ousted in the qualifying round by the Carolina Hurricanes, the Islanders plowed through Florida, Washington and Philadelphia before falling to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final.  After a short off-season and abbreviated training camp, the new season is here.

The Islanders, And The Other 30 Teams, Had Little Time To Prepare:

But with a handful of scrimmages because there were no pre-season games, was there enough time to prepare?

“I think we’ll find out on Thursday,” said Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock.  “I think these scrimmages have been good.  The pace has been high.  The guys have been moving and playing our systems and just preparing ourselves.  The guys put in the work in the off-season to prepare themselves for this. I think the guys are excited to get this going.”

UNIONDALE, NY – FEBRUARY 25: New York Islanders Defenceman Ryan Pulock (6) skates with the puck during the second period of the National Hockey League game between the New York Rangers and the New York Islanders on February 25, 2020, at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, NY. (Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire)

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the NHL is going with a 56-game regular season with four realigned divisions to cut down on travel.  So, the Islanders will be playing all of their “East Division” rivals eight times each.   That’s eight games each against the Bruins, Sabres, Flyers, Capitals, Penguins, Devils…and yes…the Rangers.

An Expanded “Battle Of New York” Between The Islanders And Rangers: 

Eight Islanders/Rangers games!

And maybe there could be seven more if they meet in the playoffs!

“We’re going to play them eight times and who knows maybe we’re playing them fifteen times this year,” said Trotz.  “I know when you play someone eight times, you’re not going to like them very much and if you have the pleasure of playing them fifteen times, you’re really not going to like them very much.  I’m looking forward to it.”

 

(Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz/Photo by Peter Schwartz)

This will be the sixth time in franchise history that the Islanders will face the Rangers eight times in the regular season, but this is the first time that it will happen since the 2007-08 season.  The Islanders and Rangers also met eight times in 1978-79, 1981-82, 2005-06, and 2007-07.

The Islanders Have One Goal In Mind…Win The Stanley Cup: 

If the Islanders are one of the top four teams in the East Division at the end of the regular season, they’ll go back to the playoffs looking to complete some unfinished business from last season.  The Islanders came up just two wins shy of reaching the Stanley Cup Final and they were six wins away from the fifth Stanley Cup in franchise history.  There were a few changes to the roster, but for the most part the Islanders are bringing back basically the same team that made it to the NHL’s version of “The Final Four”.

Now the Islanders have to try and climb that mountain again but this time knock down the door when they get to the top.

“We were close last year,” said forward Mat Barzal.  “We had a taste of how close we can get to playing in a Stanley Cup Final.  It didn’t sit well with us afterwards so I think we’re all excited just to get back in that competitive atmosphere.  Every game this year is going to mean something so I think that benefits our group.”

UNIONDALE, NY – FEBRUARY 25: New York Islanders Center Mathew Barzal (13) and New York Rangers Right Wing Jesper Fast (17) chase the puck during the second period of the National Hockey League game between the New York Rangers and the New York Islanders on February 25, 2020, at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, NY. (Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire)

With all of the games being divisional contests, every game is going to feel like a playoff game starting with these two games against the Rangers.   But for the Islanders, it’s not about winning regular season games against the Blueshirts (although Islanders fans would love to have the bragging rights over Rangers fans whether that’s family, friends, or co-workers at the water cooler or on Zoom meetings).

The culture around the Islanders changed when Lou Lamoriello was hires as Team President late in the 2017-18 season and he subsequently added the General Manager duties.  Lamoriello then brought in Trotz who had just won a Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals.  Over the last two seasons, the Islanders have made the playoffs twice and won four playoff rounds.

The mission statement is not just to make the playoffs.  The ultimate goal now is to hoist the Stanley Cup.

UNIONDALE, NY – FEBRUARY 25: New York Islanders Left Wing Anders Lee (27) takes a shot on goal with New York Rangers Goalie Alexandar Georgiev (40) making a save during the first period of the National Hockey League game between the New York Rangers and the New York Islanders on February 25, 2020, at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, NY. (Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire)

“I think we have an opportunity here to do something that we all want to do that we’ve been working for,” said Islanders Captain Anders Lee.  “I don’t think anyone is going to be satisfied with not doing what we set out to do and that’s what this is all about.”

And what a way to begin that quest to win a Stanley Cup…the first two of eight games against the Rangers.  Each and every regular season game will have a sort of a post-season feel since they are all divisional games, but there’s always something special about one of the greatest rivalries in sports.

And we’re going to see a lot of it this season.

About the Author

Peter Schwartz

Peter covers the Islanders for New York Sports Day while also writing about general sports in the New York/New Jersey area. In addition to his column, Peter also hosts his “Schwartz On Sports” podcast as he interviews players, coaches, and other sports personalities. He is also currently a sports anchor for WFAN Radio, CBS Sports Radio and WCBS 880 radio while also serving as the public address announcer for the New York Cosmos soccer club. Peter spent 8 years as the radio play by play voice for the New York Dragons of the Arena Football League. He was also the radio play by play announcer for the XFL’s NY/NJ Hitmen in 2001 and the radio play by play announcer for the New York Saints of the Major Indoor Lacrosse League from 1993 to 1996.

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