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Tampa Bay are hoping to break a franchise record this weekend
  1. NHL

NHL: New York Islanders @ New York Rangers Preview

New York rivals the Islanders and Rangers meet for the third time this season at Madison Square Garden on Friday.

And while festive spirit is in the air, there will be none of it on the ice as the pair battle it out for crucial points in the ultra-competitive Metropolitan Division.

The Rangers are -155 in the Money Line to bag the points and New York bragging rights ahead of Christmas, with the Islanders +135.

Rangers ahead

Despite losing each of the previous two meetings, the Rangers (18-11-5) are currently fourth in the division and three points ahead of the Islanders (18-13-2) who have a game in hand.

Rangers will try for third time lucky, but to be victorious they will need to be far more clinical in front of net than they have been in the previous two meetings.

Over the two games, the Rangers outshot the Islanders 81-55 but were beaten 3-0 at UBS Arena on 28th October and 4-3 at home on 10th November.

Islanders’ Ilya Sorokin won the first game and Semyon Varlamov the second, and both have continued that excellent form, with Sorokin going 10-10-1 with a .926 save percentage and 2.36 goals against average (GAA) and Varlamov 8-3-1 with a .919 save percentage and 2.65 GAA.

The pair of games came at a time when the Rangers were suffering major inconsistency, but having won seven of their last eight games, they will feel far more confident in their ability to get one over on their rivals and keep them behind in the standings.

Islanders back in contention

After reaching the Eastern Conference Final in two consecutive years, losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning each time, the Islanders missed the playoffs completely last season by a wide margin of 16 points.

The season to forget cost coach Barry Trotz his job and he was replaced by his assistant Lane Lambert.

Continuing to believe in the on-ice group, the Islanders made little change to their playing staff over the off-season and that decision has been justified, with the group so far showing last season to be a blip from a team who still believe themselves contenders for the Stanley Cup.

Lambert has allowed his team to commit more to offense and their average goals per-game has increased from 2.81 to 3.15 (17th).

At the opposite end, and in large part due to their world class goaltending, New York’s goals against haven’t increased by taking more chances offensively, but rather slightly lowered to 2.73 (eighth) compared to 2.89 under the ultra-structured Trotz.

The Islanders are +110 To Reach the Playoffs this season and +2800 to win the Stanley Cup for the first time since an incredible run of four on the trot between 1980 and 83.

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Rangers high in confidence

The Rangers took the Islanders’ place in the Eastern Conference Final last season, also losing to Tampa Bay Lightning who qualified for their third straight Stanley Cup Final.

Due to their deep run and the Vezina Trophy winning form of netminder Igor Shesterkin, the Rangers entered the new season high in optimism that they would again be in the running to deliver a fourth Stanley Cup for the franchise and first since 1994.

However, both the Rangers and Shesterkin found it difficult to maintain the lofty heights of last season and results suffered in the early going.

However, with 26-year-old Shesterkin moving back towards his elite .935 save percentage of last season - and a shake-up of lines which has found new chemistry - the Rangers have beaten the likes of Vegas Golden Knights, Colorado Avalanche and Toronto Maple Leafs over the last eight games and soared up the standings.

Overall, this season Shesterkin has a 16-5-4 record, .918 save percentage and .2.42 GAA, and he is +750 to win the Vezina Trophy again.

The Rangers have scored an average of 3.24 goals per-game which ranks 14th in the NHL and they have conceded 2.71 per-game which is seventh in the league.

Offensive talent

Each New York team possesses significant offensive punch, both from their top end forwards but also from defense.

The Rangers are led by Artemi Panarin (40 points; eight goals, 32 assists) and Mika Zibanejad (37 points; 15 goals, 22 assists), while Brock Nelson (33 points, 15 goals, 18 assists) and Mathew Barzal (31 points; four goals, 27 assists) top the Islanders’ point leaders.

On defense former Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox, 24, is the driving force for the Rangers with 34 points (seven goals, 27 assists) which ranks fourth of all blue-liners while Noah Dobson, 22, is third among all NHL defensemen with 10 goals for the Islanders (plus 11 assists).

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