“The Battle of New York” is Finally Anew

With both the Islanders and Rangers poised to be competitive this year, fans will finally see a competent New York rivalry—and one that could extend into the playoffs.

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The 2023-2024 NHL season is underway, folks. Though the focus will be on cup contenders like the Colorado Avalanche and Edmonton Oilers, there is potential for a competitive New York rivalry this year—something that hasn’t happened in three decades. The New York Rangers and the New York Islanders are perennial enemies, but the two teams are rarely good at the same time. The last time they met in the playoffs was in 1994, when the Rangers swept the Islanders en route to a Stanley Cup. Other than that, the New York teams have made their playoff pushes at different times. When the Islanders made their two semifinal appearances in 2020 and 2021, the Rangers were still rebuilding their roster. Likewise, when the Rangers made their Stanley Cup Final run in 2014, the Islanders failed to make the playoffs. But that trend could end this season.

New York Islanders

After crashing out of the first round last season, the Islanders are looking to be more competitive and establish themselves as a serious threat this postseason. Here’s a look at what needs to go right for that to happen.

The Islanders will need another stellar season from goaltender Ilya Sorokin. Last season, Sorokin had a 2.34 goals against average and a .924 save percentage, as well as a league-leading six shutouts. He finished as a finalist for the Vezina trophy, the annual trophy given to the league’s best goaltender, and played a whopping 62 of the team’s 82 regular season games. Could fatigue be a factor this season, or will Sorokin withstand the workload again? If the Islanders want any chance at the playoffs, it starts with Sorokin.

While the importance of goaltending cannot be understated, good injury luck is arguably as essential to the Islanders’ success. Top center Mat Barzal missed the final 24 games of the regular season, while defensive stalwart Adam Pelech missed 21. Additionally, right winger and former first-round pick Oliver Wahlstrom almost missed the entire season with knee issues. Coupled with a roster that didn’t have depth players to fill in, these injuries handicapped the Islanders and their playoff push. This season, better health—especially with key players—will go a long way for the Islanders.

The X-Factors

When the Islanders made the blockbuster trade with the Vancouver Canucks to acquire center Bo Horvat at last year’s trade deadline, it was obvious that he would play with Barzal. However, things didn’t exactly shake out as the team expected. Barzal got injured only seven games after the trade, and Horvat struggled to produce without a playmaker. However, this year will prove whether the trade—and subsequent eight-year extension for Horvat—was worth it.

For years, the Islanders have suffered from a lack of high-end talent, instead relying on depth to win games. The Barzal-Horvat connection has the potential to rectify that this season. On paper, it seems like a match made in heaven. Barzal is a speedy playmaker who has always needed a sniper to match his talent, and Horvat is exactly that. In this year’s preseason, the duo was as dynamic as advertised. Barzal scored at a point-per-game pace, and Horvat had a noticeable impact wherever he played. The Islanders’ power play, which struggled immensely all of last year, was noticeably better with Horvat on it. Assuming Sorokin plays well and the top players stay healthy, this duo has the power to make or break the Islanders’ season.


The Rangers also failed to make it past the first round last season and are looking to become true contenders. This is what the Rangers will need if they want a shot at the Stanley Cup.

Similarly to the Islanders, the Rangers will need goaltender Igor Shesterkin to be at the top of his game, or at least close. Shesterkin had a 2.48 goals against average and a .916 save percentage last season, which was good but not his best. Two years ago, Shesterkin ran away with the Vezina trophy and powered the Rangers to 52 wins. Can Shesterkin recapture that level of play? It’s certainly within the realm of possibility. Shesterkin is a key cog for the Rangers, and he will need to be a top netminder if his team wants to be in contention.

Unlike the Islanders, the Rangers are traditionally more dependent on their star players than depth. Perennially, the likes of top winger Artemi Panarin and top defenseman Adam Fox have led the Rangers in scoring and all-around impact. Center Mika Zibanejad scored 39 goals and 91 points last season while goal-scoring winger Chris Kreider upheld the Rangers’ elite power play. The Rangers will need their high-end talent to produce, or else they won’t make it anywhere at all. 

The X-Factors

If the Rangers want to take the next step to being a Stanley Cup contender, they will need greater performances out of their younger players. That starts with wingers Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko, who were drafted first and second overall, respectively. Last season, Lafreniere recorded 39 points over 81 games, while Kakko tallied 40 points in 82 games. Respectable numbers, but certainly not what they were drafted to be. This year, however, Lafreniere and Kakko could make a big difference. After the departure of NHL veterans and right-wingers Patrick Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko, spots have opened up for Lafreniere and Kakko on the top two lines. The young wingers have the skill to play big minutes, but can they put it all together? If they can, it would make a big difference for the Rangers.

The Rangers can get by with their star players. That said, offseason signings will determine whether the Rangers are contenders or pretenders. After they fired head coach Gerard Gallant, the Rangers hired the experienced Peter Laviolette. Laviolette, who has a strong track record of developing teams into contenders, will try to invigorate new life into this Rangers squad. If he can mesh well in the locker room, he should be a massive upgrade over Gallant, who reportedly had poor relationships with players. Moreover, the Rangers revamped their depth positions across the lineup. Veteran forwards Blake Wheeler, Nick Bonino, and Tyler Pitlick should all breathe new life into a bottom-six forward group that looked uninspired last year. Wheeler has the biggest potential to help the Rangers; he previously played in a top-line role and put up point-per-game results, though his offense has diminished lately. Offensively-minded defenseman Erik Gustafsson and experienced goaltender Jonathan Quick are also a few seasons removed from their primes, but that could change with the Rangers. If these depth signings can produce a decent clip, the Rangers will be a serious threat.

This regular season will undoubtedly have plenty of exciting Islanders-Rangers games. Could we see a meeting between the two in the playoffs? Only time will tell. Happy watching, hockey fans.