It is just the seventh game of the season for the Islanders and the eighth for the Rangers. Yet Wednesday night’s contest marks the only time these longstanding New York rivals will play in the regular season at UBS Arena.
“Yeah, I mean, it really is,” Islanders center Mathew Barzal said. “I wish there was a couple more. I feel like it should be almost automatic having something like this a couple of times a year. Just spread out. Just good games. Good for the game of hockey. Good for New York sports.”
It’s just part of the NHL scheduling matrix that ensures home-and-home series between all Eastern and Western Conference foes. Metropolitan Division teams play teams in the Atlantic Division three times and most of their divisional rivals four times. But some divisional series are limited to three games. For instance, the Islanders face the Devils only three times and the Rangers also have a three-game series against the Flyers.
Other heated rivalries around the NHL to get shorted this season include Canadiens-Bruins, Oilers-Flames and Flyers-Penguins.
“I didn’t realize, to be honest,” Islanders center Brock Nelson said when asked about playing the Rangers just once at home. “But I know the schedule is weird with the addition of a couple of teams and how they pair the other divisions. These games are fun, energetic. Great atmosphere as the fans get into them. A lot of energy, a lot of excitement. So if it is only one at home, it’s disappointing but out of our control.”
“I mean, I don’t know if it makes the most sense but I don’t know how that all works,” defenseman Scott Mayfield said when asked the same question. “We look at the schedule more for what are we doing certain times, long trips, stuff like that. I don’t know what the reasoning is behind it but I’m sure there is some reasoning, I would think.”
The Islanders play the Rangers twice at Madison Square Garden, on Nov. 8 and Dec. 22, meaning the regular-season series between these rivals is over by Christmas with more than three months left to play.
“Well, put it this way, rivalry games just add to the excitement of the moment,” Islanders coach Lane Lambert said. “The fans are into it. The players are into it. The players are into every game. But fans generate a lot of energy and that’s all part of it.”
Like Nelson, right wing Cal Clutterbuck said he didn’t realize the Rangers visited UBS Arena only once this season and he wasn’t really pondering why that was.
But in general terms, Clutterbuck acknowledged divisional games “definitely carry more weight.”
“No question,” Clutterbuck said. “Whether it’s because of past experience, past games, incidents, beating teams consistently, not beating teams consistently. You see them more often so, generally, they carry more meaning. You see these guys more often therefore you hate them more. Fans seem to hate certain teams more.
“If you look at the last five years, you’ve got the Rangers, who are hated all the time. You’ve got the Capitals, we’ve played a couple of playoff series with. The Bruins, we’ve been in the playoffs. The Penguins, we played in the playoffs a couple of times. That breeds contempt. Usually the core group of players is constant throughout and the hatred doesn’t leave. Usually, in those games, it gets reignited pretty early. It’s different when you see a Western Conference team once or twice a year and they’re kind of mixed in. It’s a hockey game but there’s not as much familiarity there.”
Notes & quotes: The Islanders placed former first-round pick Kieffer Bellows on waivers. He can be reassigned to their AHL affiliate in Bridgeport if he clears . . . Josh Bailey played in his 999th NHL game all with the Islanders.