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Isles vs. Rangers preview: Focus is on Artemi Panarin

Artemi Panarin of the New York Rangers breaks

Artemi Panarin of the New York Rangers breaks away from Scott Mayfield of the New York Islanders during the third period at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 13, 2020. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Rangers are back at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum for the first time in almost five years, meaning a homecoming for defenseman Adam Fox of Jericho. And Casey Cizikas is back in the Islanders’ lineup after missing two games.

But the real focus when the teams meet on Thursday night for the second of three games in the New York rivalry within nine days is whether the Islanders can contain the one that got away – Artemi Panarin.

Panarin, who eschewed a more lucrative offer from the Islanders to sign a seven-year, $81.5 million deal in order to play on Broadway, had two goals and three assists in the Rangers’ 6-2 win over the Islanders on Monday night at Madison Square Garden.

“He had so much space,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “We just didn’t close on him and our play away from the puck was not very good. We were slow to close and we were not in sync the way we can be. There are strengths for our team and there are strengths for the Rangers and we fed a lot of their strengths and didn’t take any of their strengths away. So, they looked really good.”

The Islanders rebounded from that shellacking with an 8-2 win over the NHL-worst Red Wings on Tuesday night at the Coliseum to open this three-game homestand. That was the second straight game Cizikas missed after David Pastrnak’s shot hit him in the groin in the Bruins’ 3-2 overtime win at Barclays Center on Saturday night.

“These are big games you look forward to during the season and not playing Monday definitely hurt,” Cizikas said. “It was something I wanted to do but it’s nice to have another chance tonight.”

“He’s such a big part of our team,” linemate Matt Martin added. “When Casey’s not available, it kind of affects the way we do things as a team.”

Thursday’s game will also be a rematch of Monday’s goalie matchup. Semyon Varlamov was mercifully pulled in the third period after allowing six goals on 35 shots against the Rangers. Thomas Greiss made 34 saves – and lost a tooth – against the Red Wings.

Alexandar Georgiev stopped 32 shots on Monday to improve to 3-1-0 lifetime against the Islanders with a 1.21 goals-against average, a .957 save percentage and one shutout.

It will be the Rangers’ first game at the Coliseum since a 2-1 win on March 10, 2015.

The Rangers had less luck in Brooklyn as the Islanders were 7-1-0 against them at Barclays Center since 2015-16. Only goalie Henrik Lundqvist, defenseman Marc Staal, Jesper Fast, Micheal Haley and Chris Kreider have played for the Rangers at the Coliseum, though center Ryan Strome played for the Islanders from 2013 to 2017.

“I’ve been on both sides,” said Haley, who also played for the Islanders from 2010 to 2012. “It’s huge. It’s not very far. You’ve got a lot of mixed fans. It goes back a long, long time. I remember being on the Islanders and playing the Rangers and the hostility there. I think it’s a healthy rivalry but good competition. They’ve got a good team. They play a real mature game and a hard game.”

Haley fought Ross Johnston early in the first period on Monday and it wouldn’t be surprising to see a rematch of that bout on Thursday.

But the focus for the Islanders remains on containing Panarin and the equally-speedy top line of Mika Zibanejad centering Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich. Panarin comes into Thursday’s game with four goals and eight assists in a four-game point streak.

Buchnevich played through the flu on Monday and did not practice on Wednesday but is expected to be in the lineup.

“We got it handed to us a little bit in their building,” said Islanders right wing Jordan Eberle, who has scored three of his six goals this season over the last four games. “We need a better effort. You never want to get outworked. If that comes into question – your work ethic – you take it on the chin. It’s a little embarrassing. That’s not who we are. We know that. You go on to the next day. I know we’ll respond.”


Islanders (28-13-4)

Anders Lee-Mathew Barzal-Jordan Eberle

Anthony Beauvillier-Brock Nelson-Derick Brassard

Ross Johnston-Josh Bailey-Tom Kuhnhackl

Matt Martin-Casey Cizikas-Leo Komarov

Nick Leddy-Ryan Pulock

Devon Toews-Scott Mayfield

Noah Dobson-Johnny Boychuk

Semyon Varlamov (15-6-4, 2.48 goals-against average, .919 save percentage)

Rangers (22-19-4)

Chris Kreider-Mika Zibanejad-Pavel Buchnevich

Artemi Panarin-Ryan Strome-Jesper Fast

Brett Howden-Filip Chytil-Kaapo Kakko

Micheal Haley-Greg McKegg-Brendan Smith

Brady Skjei-Jacob Trouba

Marc Staal-Tony DeAngelo

Ryan Lindgren-Adam Fox

Alexandar Georgiev (11-9-1, 3.11, .911)

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