The Islanders and Rangers will play the entirety of their scheduled 56-game regular season within the temporarily assembled East Division, part of the NHL’s revamped alignment designed to limit travel during the COVID-19 pandemic.
That means eight games apiece against the Bruins, Sabres, Devils, Flyers, Penguins and Capitals, as well as each other. It’s conceivably the toughest of the NHL’s four divisions for the upcoming season, which starts Jan. 13, as all but the Sabres and Devils were among the 24 teams that qualified for the postseason last season.
"Really, we’re going to see a 56-game season but it’d be 56 playoff games and all four-point games," Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello said. "I think it’s exciting."
The Islanders and Rangers open training camp on Sunday.
Here’s a closer look at the Islanders and Rangers’ divisional opponents:
Bruins: It will be a season of transition after the Bruins finished with an NHL-best 100 points last season. Defenseman Torey Krug signed with the Blues and longtime captain Zdeno Chara is now with the Capitals, leaving Long Beach’s Charlie McAvoy as the No. 1 defenseman. There’s also uncertainty as to when top-liners Brad Marchand (sports hernia) and David Pastrnak (hip) will be available after offseason surgery. The goalie tandem of Tuukka Rask and ex-Islander Jaroslav Halak is still among the best in the league.
Sabres: The Sabres have gone nine straight seasons without making the playoffs but took significant strides by signing top free agent Taylor Hall to a one-year, $8 million deal and acquiring center Eric Staal from the Wild. Hall and center Jack Eichel could form one of the most potent lines in the league. And the hope is reuniting Staal with his former Hurricanes’ teammate will help Jeff Skinner rediscover his 40-goal form from 2018-19. But a lot will depend on whether No. 1 goalie Linus Ullmark and backup Carter Hutton can improve.
Devils: Veteran coach Lindy Ruff goes from Rangers’ assistant to Devils’ bench boss after New Jersey missed the postseason for the seventh time in eight years. There is talent, with centers Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes picked first overall in 2017 and 2019, respectively. Kyle Palmieri, originally from Smithtown, has scored at least 24 goals in each of his five seasons with the Devils. Defenseman Ryan Murray was a key offseason acquisition from the Blue Jackets and former Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford was signed to partner with rapidly developing Mackenzie Blackwood, 24.
Flyers: Alain Vigneault, in his second season as coach, has a strong mixture of promising young talent and solid veterans. Most importantly, a franchise that has long struggled in net finally appears to have a bona-fide No. 1 goalie in Carter Hart. The Flyers are still hoping Nolan Patrick will justify being selected second overall in 2017 after missing last season with a migraine disorder. Sean Couturier and Kevin Hayes are excellent as the top two centers.
Penguins: Another team in transition, though the Penguins still have their twin superstars in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, plus dangerous defenseman Kris Letang. Kasperi Kapanen was acquired from the Maple Leafs and could be on Crosby’s right wing. Mike Matheson was acquired from the Panthers and former Senator and Maple Leaf Cody Ceci was signed to provide defense depth with Justin Schultz and Jack Johnson gone. Tristan Jarry is now the No. 1 goalie with Matt Murray, who won two Stanley Cups, traded to the Senators.
Capitals: Alex Ovechkin remains the best goal scorer in the NHL but the Great Eight is surrounded by a new crew. Peter Laviolette takes over for the fired Todd Reirden as coach, Ilya Samsonov is now the No. 1 goalie with Braden Holtby signing with the Canucks and ex-Ranger Henrik Lundqvist unable to play because of a heart condition. Defense was an issue last season so the defense corps has been revamped with the additions of Chara, Schultz and ex-Hurricane Trevor van Riemsdyk.