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For Islanders, time to reset and bring their A game vs. Rangers

Islanders' Andy Greene (4) celebrates with teammates Noah

Islanders' Andy Greene (4) celebrates with teammates Noah Dobson (8) and Mathew Barzal (13) after scoring against the New York Rangers during the second period of an NHL hockey game Friday, April 9, 2021. Credit: AP/Jason DeCrow

On paper, the Islanders would certainly prefer a 5-1 homestand over going 4-2. More importantly, they must improve their play after splitting two so-so outings.

The Islanders conclude a season-high, six-game homestand on Sunday night against the Rangers at Nassau Coliseum. The Rangers won the opener of this two-game series, 4-1, on Friday night after the Islanders played worse but managed a 3-2 shootout win over the Flyers on Thursday night.

Those were also the first two games with a revamped lineup after the Islanders acquired top-nine forwards Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac from the Devils on Wednesday for a first-round pick this year, a conditional fourth-round pick in 2022 and minor-leaguers A.J. Greer and Mason Jobst.

An adjustment period is natural.

 

"That’s very important," defenseman Andy Greene said of finishing the homestand with a strong performance. "[Thursday] night and [Friday night], we had pockets of the way we need to play. But not enough of it. It’s just important we come in Sunday, refreshed and really focused on that."

The Islanders (26-11-4) and Capitals both have an East Division-leading 56 points, though the Capitals have one more regulation win and two more regulation or overtime wins when it comes to tiebreakers. The third-place Penguins are two points behind the leaders.

The Islanders, who did not practice on Saturday, actually get a rare rest in this break-neck, condensed, 56-game season after Sunday’s rematch with the Rangers. They are off until opening a two-game series in Boston on Thursday night.

All the more reason for the urgency heading into Sunday’s game.

"I think we’ve been really good on this homestand other than the last game," coach Barry Trotz said before Saturday’s loss. "There’s been a little bit of inconsistency. We’ve had some good opponents, desperate opponents. Big games. We’ve been able to manage that."

The homestand opened with two wins against the Capitals and two shootout wins over the Flyers.

"You get on the road for too long or you get at home for too long and you sort of get into a little bit of a rut," Trotz said. "Our guys have been pretty good. It’s been a grind. We’ve played good teams and we’ve responded to the challenges. We’ve been pretty consistent."

"We’ve been solid all year at home," said Jean-Gabriel Pageau of the Islanders’ 17-2-2 record at the Coliseum. "We didn’t come out that way exactly that we wanted [against the Rangers]. We tried to battle back and came out short. But that’s the good thing. Having a lot of games in a tight schedule we can get right back at it and we have a chance, one day of rest, to turn the page, get right back at it and do our best."

The Islanders have split their first four games with the Rangers — Friday night’s game was the first in which the losing team wasn’t shut out — and, including Sunday, they play four more times through May 1.

The Rangers, like the Flyers, are still on the fringe of the playoff chase in the East.

"Every point, every game is so critical right now," Greene said. "We’re almost in the homestretch here and we’ve got to make sure we bring our A game every game because, if we don’t, nights like [Friday night] will happen."

The Islanders have lost consecutive games in regulation four times this season, with the longest stretch being three straight from Jan. 24-28. That was part of an 0-3-2 skid.

But they are 18-4-1 since Feb. 22.

Said Josh Bailey, "We’ll turn the page, rest up and get ready to go."

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