The season doesn’t end for the Islanders on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, but facing the Rangers represents a couple of last chances.
“The margin of error for us has shrunk,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “So every game is big. We’ve just got to get playing our game. It’s going to be a dogfight right to the end of the year.”
The Islanders have had a subpar 3-5-2 January, and this game is their last before a 10-day All-Star Game/bye week break. Beating the Rangers would allow the players to salvage some positive vibes through their extended in-season vacation. After Tuesday, the Islanders don’t play again until Feb. 1 against the Canucks at Barclays Center.
It’s also a last chance to beat the Rangers in this stretch of three games in nine days between the bitter rivals. The Islanders played one of their worst games of the season in a 6-2 loss at the Garden on Jan. 13. They played well but still lost, 3-2, at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum last Thursday as Derick Brassard’s cross-checking penalty on Jesper Fast with 53.5 seconds left in regulation led to Chris Kreider’s power-play winner with 24.6 seconds to go.
The Islanders are 1-3-2 in this stretch of what will be seven games in 11 days after the Rangers game. They did not practice Monday after completing a back-to-back with a 2-1 shootout loss at Carolina on Sunday.
It was a much better team effort than their 6-4 loss to the Capitals on Saturday, when the Islanders allowed five unanswered goals in the third period.
“I thought, as a group, we competed real hard and played well,” Casey Cizikas said. “We did all the little things to be competitive throughout the game. It’s something we can build off of, especially going into our next game. We’ve got another big matchup. We’ll take what we did today and continue to the next one.”
But the Islanders still were held to one goal or fewer for the fourth time in 10 games this month. They have exceeded two goals only three times in January.
“We’ve had a tough time breaking through, getting that three or four goals up on the board,” said Mathew Barzal, who will play in the All-Star Game for a second straight season. “It’s just kind of what we’re used to. It’s just unfortunate we don’t score. The effort is there. Hopefully they go in at some point.
“It’s been unfortunate the efforts we’ve brought out against the Rangers,” Barzal added. “We need to get a win before the break. I’m sure they do, too. It’s just going to be another heavy-type game, another playoff-type atmosphere. Both teams will be excited. They’ve had some success against us of late. We’ve got to try to turn the tide.”
It’s unclear whether Josh Bailey, who continues to flip-flop with Brassard as either the second-line right wing or the third-line center, will be available. He logged only 4:42 at Carolina before leaving the game because of illness midway through the second period.