NHL veterans, be it coaches or players, have learned not to overthink the schedule. The mantra is just play who’s in front of you.
But this bit of scheduling is weird.
More than halfway through the season, the Rangers and Islanders have yet to face each other, but Monday night’s game at Madison Square Garden marks the first of three games between the Metropolitan Division rivals in nine days. They also will play Thursday night at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum and back at the Garden on Jan. 21. Their fourth and final regular-season game is Feb. 25 at the Coliseum.
“It’s strange,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “We’re the closest team to them and we haven’t played them and it’s the middle of January, almost.”
The Islanders will face the Rangers three times in a six-game span; for the Rangers, three of their next four games will be against the Islanders. The last time the Rangers played the same opponent three times in a span of four games? It was against the Islanders from Oct. 19-27, 2005.
Neither team practiced on Sunday after both teams had two-game winning streaks snapped on Saturday night. The Bruins beat the Islanders, 3-2, in overtime at Barclays Center and the Rangers lost to the Blues, 5-2, in St. Louis.
So there was no indication what Monday night’s goalie matchup will be.
Semyon Varlamov made 30 saves on Saturday, but with the Islanders also facing the Red Wings on Tuesday night at the Coliseum, it’s likely he and Thomas Greiss will split the back-to-back games.
The Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist stopped 24 shots against the defending Stanley Cup champion Blues, but coach David Quinn can choose between him, Alexandar Georgiev and Russian rookie Igor Shesterkin, who is 2-0-0 with a 3.01 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage after being recalled from the Rangers’ AHL affiliate in Hartford for his NHL debut.
Georgiev is 2-1-0 with a 0.87 GAA, a .967 save percentage and one shutout in three career games against the Islanders.
“They’re playing well and they’ve got some very dynamic people, obviously [Artemi] Panarin and they got the three-headed monster in goal right now,” Trotz said. “They’ve got lots of things going for them. We know it’s going to be a real good test. They always play us tough and hopefully we play them tough as well.”
For Derick Brassard, it will mark his first regular-season game as an Islander in the New York rivalry after playing for the Rangers from 2013-16.
“It’s so many years now,” Brassard said. “I’ve been on the other side when we came here in the old rink [the Coliseum]. It’s always fun games. They’re playing well, too. They’re going to be good hockey games.”
Thursday’s game at the Coliseum will be the Rangers’ first at the venerable barn since a 2-1 win on March 10, 2015.
Brassard’s favorite memory of the rivalry came on April 13, 2013.
“The Girardi one, probably,” Brassard said of defenseman Dan Girardi’s overtime winner in the Rangers’ 1-0 victory as Lundqvist made 29 saves. “The atmosphere has always been really good when we play. I can’t wait to see it.”
“It’ll be good,” Trotz said. “It’s the battle of New York.”
Notes & quotes: The Islanders did not have an update on center Casey Cizikas, who was in considerable pain Saturday after David Pastrnak’s power-play shot hit him in the groin area in overtime . . . Islanders right wing Jordan Eberle is expected to play in his 700th NHL regular-season game . . . The Rangers recalled forward Phillip Di Giuseppe from AHL Hartford and reassigned center Steven Fogarty to the Wolf Pack.
The fierce rivalry between the Rangers and Islanders started back on their first meeting at Nassau Coliseum on Oct. 21, 1972. Players and fans from both teams have changed over the years, but the level of play and competitive fire between these teams has never faded.