So Saturday’s game is their only close-to-home tilt in the first seven.
And I think, of all these games until they go back to the partially renovated Garden, among the 11 games — all six Europe games, all four Western Canada games — this one is the toughest.
It is the toughest because, well, it’s the Islanders and this is always their Stanley Cup, and for whatever dumb, inexplicable reason, the Rangers rarely find it in themselves to match the Islanders’ pace in these meetings, to match the snarl, and the intensity.
But it’s also the toughest because, if you haven’t been paying attention, the Islanders are off to a strong start, a start in which they are starting to think they’re serious about a playoff spot, are rallying around the surprising decision to go with ex-Ranger Al Montoya over Fragile Rick DiPietro and Evgeni Nabokov, and being led by all that young talent up front.
Because the Islanders will be an opponent that plays tough against the Rangers, maybe tries to bully the Rangers, who no longer have a legit heavyweight on the roster, and who — yes, this is one of those few games over the course of 82 — might actually miss Sean Avery tomorrow (there, I said it). The Rangers should just stay away from Village People Gillies and the like.
And, just because the Rangers didn’t have their legs in the two games in Stockholm, had an unusual recovery week at home in which they practiced every other day, and with a wandering eye toward the Northwest, might have some trouble finding legs on Nassau Coliseum’s ice.
This is going to be a real challenge for John Tortorella and the Rangers’ young leaders, and the key vets like Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik and Henrik Lundqvist, to not only get up for this game, but to maintain concentration — in part, that means not taking the ridiculous number of penalties they took against the Kings and Mighties — and to be able to weather the bees’ nest they’ll be entering.
There’s not much question this schedule has the Rangers behind the 8-ball early, in the standings, in games played, in terms of normalcy. You hate to say this is a must-win, because it’s not. But it’s sort of a must-not-lose. Because we can imagine what this schedule and the upcoming schedule and the standings might look like with an L added tomorrow.
Not to mention the panic that will ensue here.
AP photo, above.