For the last few weeks we’ve heard about the New York Rangers and how they’re the team to beat in the Eastern Conference. They acquired Keith Yandle at the trade deadline and are only three points behind the New York Islanders for the top seed in the Metropolitan Division.
And the cherry on top? The refrain that can be heard every time anyone heaps praise on the Blueshirts?
“…And to think they’ve done this all without Henrik Lundqvist!”
This is true. Since Lundqvist last played on February 2, the Rangers have played 16 games, winning 11 of them. Whenever a team wins that many games with their backup and No. 3 goalies doing the heavy lifting, it’s sure to gain some attention. When your typical No. 1 is an all-world netminder like Lundqvist though? Well, that gives the thing a whole different slant.
There’s the pesky detail of needing to win three playoff rounds to get there, but pundits seem to be ready to crown the Rangers the Eastern Conference champions before a single postseason contest is played.
The New York Islanders might have something to say about that.
The Blueshirts aren’t the only team in New York that is about to get a high-end player back from injury. Kyle Okposo has been on the shelf since January 19 following surgery to a detached retina.
Kyle Okposo of New York Islanders has detached retina http://t.co/M7GbQAafSs
— ESPN New York (@ESPNNewYork) February 3, 2015
We’ll give you a second to shake off the heebie-jeebies after seeing the words detached, retina and surgery in the same sentence.
As hockey fate would have it, Okposo is set to return this evening as the Islanders take on the Rangers. It’s a fitting comeback for the 26-year-old forward, since the two New York squads are going toe to toe for the division crown. There’s no doubt that the Rangers are a much better team when Lundqvist is in goal and his recovery shouldn’t be overlooked.
Okposo is an incredibly important component for the Islanders though, and the offense has struggled to produce at times without the nearly point-per-game forward. The Isles are 5-3-2 in their last 10, and have managed to pace the red-hot Blueshirts to this point. Getting Okposo could be just enough to help them maintain their lead in the Metro.
Especially if John Tavares continues to play like he has without his typical linemate.
If it wasn’t for Carey Price’s immaculate play with the Montreal Canadiens, John Tavares would be the front runner for the Hart Trophy. Heading into tonight’s game against the rangers, the 24-year-old leads the NHL in points with 72 and is fourth in the league in goals scored. Seven of his 33 goals were game winners, and he’s notched 12 on the power play.
All while his typical wing man has missed 22 straight contests.
There’s no act in hockey tougher than goal scoring. That’s why the heat that players like Phil Kessel and Alex Ovechkin get is outlandish. That’s also why the Islanders are so much more dangerous with Okposo in the lineup; he’s an excellent shooter and gels well with Tavares.
It took the former seventh-overall pick a few seasons to find his groove in the NHL. That’s the nature of players that play more of a power game. After an underwhelming four-goal campaign in the lockout shortened 2012-13 season, Okposo finally came around last year. He notched 27 goals and added 42 assists, giving the Islanders a deadly one-two combination along with Tavares.
The captain has shown that he can do a lot of damage with Josh Bailey on the left side and a rotating cast of wingers on the right, but he is infinitely more dangerous when Okposo is added to the mix.
After a long cold stretch from November 5 to December in which he scored no goals, Okposo had started to find his groove prior to the retina injury. He’d scored five goals in the three contests leading up to the wound, including a four-goal outburst against the Pittsburgh Penguins on January 16.
The first two goals from that contest really show what Okposo brings to the table on a nightly basis. His opening tally comes from a spectacular feed from Tavares, while the second is scored off of a rebound while driving to the next. He threw in a snipe from the middle of the slow and a power-play goal for good measure, but in general this outing against the Penguins shows why Okposo is so dangerous.
Tonight you’re going to hear a lot about how good the Rangers have been without Lundqvist in goal. Don’t forget that the Islanders have been getting by without one of their top forwards for 22 contests as well though.