It’s still early – but teams normally in playoff position by U.S. Thanksgiving – make the playoffs at better than a 70% clip, the following spring. The New York Rangers are 2nd in the NHL’s Eastern Conference (16-4-2, 34 pts), while the New York Islanders are 7th in the East (11-8-3, 25 pts).
At Coach Alain Vigneault’s behest, the Rangers have jumped out to a better start than the previous two seasons, and are, as usual, led by all-world goaltender Henrik Lundqvist; Lundqvist leads the league with 1.94 Goals Against Average and is tied for the top with a .939 Save Percentage. Along with the league’s top defense (1.9 goals/game), the Rangers have a balanced offensive attack and are receiving important contributions by rookie C Oscar Lindberg (7G, 7A, 14 PTS) and RW Mats Zuccarello (10G, 11A, 21 PTS) – Zuccarello remarkably returned from skull fracture sustained in last year’s playoffs. LW Rick Nash was quiet early, but has come on of late, highlighted by a hat trick in an OT win at Florida last Saturday (11/21).
The Islanders are not off to as a good a start as a year ago, but they have effectively battled through some injury and illness during their early days in Brooklyn. The team is only 10th in the NHL in scoring (2.8 goals/game), but is improving defensively (7th in the NHL; 2.4 goals/game). On special teams, the Islanders Power Play is struggling at 24th (15.9%) in the NHL, but the Penalty Kill – long an Achilles Heel – is much improved at 11th in NHL (81.7%). C John Tavares missed three games in November with the flu, but is a point-a-game player with 20 PTS in 19 games; Kyle Okposo has 19 PTS (5G, 14A) in 22 games. Recently, the media broke the story that Islander Defenseman Travis Hamonic has asked for a trade (personal reasons) to be closer to his home in the Winnipeg-area; Hamonic is a strong young D-Man, and Islander GM Garth Snow will be hard pressed to accommodate his desire to be closer to home while obtaining an equitable return for the Isles.
Both the Rangers and the Islanders have struggled with the Eastern Conference leading Montreal Canadiens. The Rangers lost 5-1 at MSG against Montreal on Wednesday night (11/25); the Islanders were swept in a home-and-home against Montreal last weekend. The Isles and Rangers are a cumulative 0-5 against the Habs.
New Jersey (11-9-1, 10th in the East) and Buffalo (8-12-2, 15th in the East) are improved under new coaches John Hynes (NJ) and Dan Bylsma (BUF); New Jersey G Corey Schneider has been brilliant (2.05 GAA) and masks the Devils’ lack of overall offensive firepower; the Devils have received solid contributions from veteran LW Mike Cammalleri (22 PTS in 21 games) and RW Lee Stempniak (16 PTS)…Buffalo rookie C Jack Eichel (2nd overall pick, ’15 draft) has experienced his ups-and-downs (7G, 4A, 11 PTS), and will only get better as the season progresses. Buffalo has managed through the almost the entire season without projected starting G Robin Lehner (acquired from Ottawa)…it will be interesting to see the Sabres improve with more steady net play.
Mike Lalor can be heard talking New York sports on the Spadora on Sports radio program. His blog can be found at SpadoraOnSports.com.