The New York Rangers are emerging from the Christmas break leading the Atlantic Division, and their rivals across the East River are coming back entrenched at the bottom.
Marian Gaborik and the Rangers hope the time off doesn't stunt their momentum, something the Islanders will look to do Monday night at Madison Square Garden.
The holiday was likely more enjoyable for the Rangers (21-8-4) considering they are riding a four-game winning streak following a 4-2 victory over Philadelphia on Friday. They climbed within one point of Eastern Conference-leading Boston and into a tie atop the Atlantic with the Flyers, but the Rangers have won both meetings and played one fewer game.
"We're right there at the top, and that gives us confidence going forward," captain Ryan Callahan said. "There's still a lot of hockey to be played, and we haven't seen our best yet."
It would be hard to expect much better from Gaborik, who has scored six times during a four-game goal streak and leads the league with 21. He's already within one goal of his total from last season in 62 games.
Gaborik certainly has caused problems for the Islanders (11-16-6), totaling 14 goals and nine assists in his last 15 games against them. He's a big reason the Rangers have won eight of the last 11 meetings, scoring at least four goals eight times in that span.
Gaborik scored in the most recent matchup as the Rangers won 4-2 on Thursday.
That was the Islanders' fifth consecutive defeat at MSG, their worst losing streak there since dropping seven straight visits March 16, 1983-Feb. 17, 1985. They've been outscored by a 24-7 margin during the current skid in Manhattan.
They have had trouble scoring everywhere lately, failing to register more than three goals in eight consecutive games and not posting any regulation wins in that span. That 2-5-1 stretch has dropped the Isles into a tie with Carolina for the fewest points in the East - 18 behind the Rangers.
The Islanders have not led after the first period in any game during that span.
"For us to be successful, it's 60 minutes of work ethic, and that's what we have to concentrate on," coach Jack Capuano said. "We're at our best when we play a high-energy game."
Capuano has gotten good energy from Matt Moulson and John Tavares, but few of their teammates are producing regularly. Moulson has 10 goals and seven assists in his last 13 games, and Tavares has 12 points in 11 games this month after scoring in Friday's 5-3 loss to Toronto.
Tavares has a six-game point streak versus the Rangers, totaling four goals and eight assists. Moulson has 10 points in his last five games against them, scoring a goal in each.
It might be tough for them to stay hot if Henrik Lundqvist is in the Rangers' net. His 1.79 goals-against average over the past month is tops among East goaltenders with at least five starts, and Lundqvist hasn't allowed more than three goals in any of his 17 starts since the beginning of November, going 12-4-1 with a 1.87 GAA.
"We feel good about ourselves, our game and where we are right now," Lundqvist said.
It seems likely Evgeni Nabokov will be in the opposite net, with Al Montoya still recovering from a concussion suffered last week. Nabokov is 0-7-0 in nine starts since beating the Rangers 4-2 in his season debut Oct. 15.
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- Marian Gaborik