By Mike Sutter
New York sports are known for their crosstown rivalries. The Mets and Yankees. The Giants and Jets. The Knicks and Nets. Friendly, good-natured rivalries.
The rivalry between the Islanders and Rangers is anything but friendly in comparison. However, the two fanbases can agree that their teams constantly fail to meet expectations.
The Islanders ended the 2015-16 NHL season in disappointing fashion as they were easily beaten in the second round of the playoffs by the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Islanders had finally won their first playoff series in over 20 years. The series loss followed several years of rebuilding and losing overseen by GM Garth Snow and coach Jack Capuano.
Snow signed veterans Andrew Ladd, Jason Chimera and PA Parenteau to fill the voids left by Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen and Matt Martin. Parenteau, who was signed to play alongside captain and franchise player John Tavares, was recently put on waivers after a disappointing preseason. Parenteau’s demotion opens the door for up-and-coming young players such as Anthony Beauvillier and Josh Ho-Sang.
The Islanders’ success hinges on starting goaltenders Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss. The Islanders had originally intended for Halak to be a full-time starter, but a full season’s workload has proven to be too much for him to handle. Greiss was intended to be merely a backup but he has played surprisingly well.
The Rangers ended their 2015-16 season in similarly disappointing fashion by losing a quick series to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Rangers’ story last year was one of inexplicable success in spite of poor play. After two straight disappointing seasons, coach Alain Vigneault may be on the hot seat.
The Rangers’ most exciting young player is Mika Zibanejad, who was acquired in the trade that sent Derick Brassard to Ottawa. Jimmy Vesey and Paul Buchnevich are very promising and are in good hands under the tutelage of the Rangers’ mostly veteran roster.
Star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist seems to be slowing down at the age of 34, but is backed up by the steady Antti Raanta. Scorer Rick Nash hopes to bounce back from last year’s injury-plagued season. Sophomore defenseman Dylan McIlrath should only improve with time. If all goes as planned for the Rangers, the future is bright.
The Islanders and Rangers will quickly get to know each other as their first game of the season is against each other at the Garden. However, that will be the last time the two teams play each other until December 13.