Before the season began, not many people would have expected that both the New York Rangers and New York Islanders would be tied in points more than 30 games into the season.
But that is the case heading into tonight's matchup at MSG.
The Islanders have relied heavily on top-pick John Tavares, who has really come into his own after a slow transition to the NHL.
In 33 games this season at center, Tavares has 15 goals and 12 assists, good for 27 points. He has been flanked on the left by the surprising Matt Moulson, who has 15 goals and 10 assists and is on-pace for a career-year.
Rounding out the Islanders top-three forwards is former first round pick Kyle Okposo. The bulky winger has put up 22 points in his second full season with the club.
Defensively, veteran Mark Streit continues to be a good fit. As the team's highest scoring defenseman, 17 points on the season, Streit has been a tremendous asset in transitioning the play to the young forwards while still being fairly responsible defensively.
However, the Islanders fall off considerably on the defensive end after Streit. Veteran Brendan Witt is a difficult -30 through 30 games. Bruno Gervais is -12 while Freddy Meyer is -6.
In fact, the only regular Islander defender in the plus column is 23-year-old Jack Hillen who is +6 in 29 games.
On the goaltending front, the Rick DiPietro merry go-round continues as he is suffering from leg tightness following some games with the Islanders' AHL-affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
However, veteran tandem Dwayne Roloson and Martin Biron have held their own this season. Roloson has taken the slight edge in starter status, playing in 20 games while Biron has seen action in 15.
Roloson has accounted for most of the Islanders' wins this season, with 10 as well as 5 overtime losses. Biron has a record of 2-9-2.
In all, the Rangers have their work cut out for them. Coming off a good effort against Atlanta on Monday night, they need to continue and work hard along the boards and pressure the Islander defense.
Chris Higgins will be a key factor in the matchup as he is the only sizeable winger in the top-three pairings. Higgins has created considerable opportunities in the past 10 games, but is snake bitten, including three breakaway opportunities on Monday.
Ales Kotalik, with similar size to Higgins but a far less aggressive game, will also need to be a factor tonight. Kotalik's play has declined in recent weeks amidst published reports of mutual disdain between himself and Head Coach John Tortorella.
Fan-favorite Ryan Callahan has had the hot hand of late, with three points in the last two games. He seems to have settled in to his leadership role and regained his aggressive form.
His style, plus the return of Brandon Dubinsky, should give the Rangers some better speed through the neutral zone.
Henrik Lundqvist will get the start tonight.
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