The Islanders can imagine the noise in Barclays Center Thursday night when they host the Rangers with both teams tied for second in the Metro Division. The rivalry with the Blueshirts isn’t the main objective. Gaining two points is paramount at a time when inconsistent play and overcoming injuries may create obstacles to the postseason.
“I know it’s exciting for the media,’’ Jack Capuano said, “and I know it’s exciting for the fans. It should be. New York teams battling. But for us we have to focus on the things that we need to do. I think in our games this year we’ve been a little bit inconsistent in how we play. We have to make sure we channel our energy, make sure that we’re focused, we’re determined, we play desperate hockey.’’
In December, the Islanders beat the Rangers in a shootout in the first meeting at Barclays and Jaroslav Halak had a nice game in goal. But Halak has struggled in his two starts returning from an upper-body injury. Thomas Greiss was in goal for Tuesday’s 5-2 victory over the Blue Jackets. Capuano typically did not name his goalie for the Rangers.
Capuano all but discounted the win against the last-place Blue Jackets. “We played OK, we scored some goals,’’ Capuano said. “Brock [Nelson] showed up. Brock got three goals. We have some other guys that need to step their game up for us to be successful. We need all 20 guys going, especially when you start playing some of these top teams.”
John Tavares, with one goal this month and three since Dec. 13, counts himself among the non-producers. He was thrilled for Nelson’s hat trick but said, “I don’t know if it takes the pressure off [himself]. I’m kind of counted on to produce and expect a lot more of myself.
“There’s been games with a lot of opportunities to put the puck in the net. I had a lot of good chances [against Columbus]. I’ve got to find a way to put it in. Just got to stay with it, keep working and believe things will turn.’’
As for the Rangers, Tavares added, “It’s a big two points. It’s always a lot of fun, the intensity, the passion of the fans. I’m sure both teams will feed off that energy.’’
Nelson said, “It’s obviously a huge rivalry, so maybe there’s a little bit of added pressure, but that stems from outside people building up. For us, I think everybody does that subtly without going around and preaching it. It’s definitely a huge game, one that you have to come ready to play for.’’
Notes & quotes: Ryan Pulock, the high-scoring defenseman at Bridgeport, has yet to be called up despite injuries. It is GM Garth Snow’s call, Capuano said. “If I was Ryan I’d been in those coaches’ offices and say, ‘Why isn’t it me? What do I need to do to get to the next level?’ I’m sure he’s done that. He wants to get here. I don’t want to rush a player, either. But he’s playing well.’’