After Much Different Bubble Stays, Rangers and Islanders Start New Year

After a brief coaching camp and an out-of-place low season, the Rangers and the Islanders will begin their N.H.L. seasons by enjoying one another on Thursday evening, with out followers, at Madison Square Garden.

The groups will enter this abbreviated, 56-game dash to the playoffs after vastly totally different experiences in summer time bubbles in Canada, which helped the league full its 2019-20 season.

The Islanders return to the ice with confidence carved from latest success. They received three collection within the Toronto bubble earlier than falling in six video games to the eventual Stanley Cup champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning, within the Eastern Conference finals in Edmonton, Alberta.

“It feels like you’re picking up where you left off,’’ Anders Lee, the Islanders’ captain, said. “It definitely feels like we can pick up and continue on.”

The Rangers had a quick Toronto bubble keep — shedding three straight video games to the Carolina Hurricanes of their early August qualifying-round collection. Since then, the group stated goodbye to 3 veterans: goaltender Henrik Lundqvist (buyout), defenseman Marc Staal (commerce to Detroit) and ahead Jesper Fast (free-agent signing with Carolina).

Alexis Lafreniere, the primary general choose in 2020, and the 2018 first-round choice Ok’Andre Miller, a 6-foot-4 defenseman who performed the previous two seasons on the University of Wisconsin, are among the many additions.

“I feel really good and obviously a lot of nerves, but I think I’m really excited — really looking forward to tomorrow and my first N.H.L. game,” Lafreniere stated on Wednesday. “I’ve been dreaming for a long time, so it’s going to be a really special moment for sure.”

For David Quinn, the Rangers’ third-year coach, the problem can be constructing on the momentum his crew had displayed earlier than play was paused in March due to the pandemic. The crew had discovered a groove because of the offensive prowess of forwards Artemi Panarin (team-leading 95 factors), Mika Zibanejad (team-best 41 targets) and Chris Kreider, who signed a seven-year contract extension final yr.

Zibanejad stated on Monday that he had examined constructive for coronavirus earlier than coaching camp began and was on the mend.

The Rangers are trying ahead to the addition of Lafreniere, 19, who amassed 112 factors for Rimouski Océanic of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League final season. He will be part of the crew’s present younger core, together with Kaapo Kakko, the second general choose in 2019, defenseman Adam Fox and goaltender Igor Shesterkin, who was 10-2-0 final season.

“We feel really good about our group,’’ the Rangers’ general manager, Jeff Gorton, said. “Our team was trending in the right direction. A lot of our young players were improving. I think we’re deeper. I think we’ve improved.”

Panarin, 29, a Hart Trophy finalist after his sterling inaugural season with the Rangers, stated he was thrilled to have Lafreniere as a brand new teammate.

“I’ve been watching him on the ice, obviously see a lot of skill,’’ Panarin said. “We’re obviously very happy to have him. My advice was that now that he’s playing at this level in men’s hockey, it’s all about mental stability. It’s all about preparation. It’s maybe no longer about skating laps, but really working on your mental part of the game and your psychology.”

The Islanders, in the meantime, have a squad that has primarily stayed intact since coming inside two video games of the finals in September.

Defenseman Johnny Boychuk retired due to a watch damage and ahead Derick Brassard and goaltender Thomas Greiss departed as free brokers. But the crew’s main scorer, Mathew Barzal, just lately signed a three-year, $21 million contract, and the rookie goaltender Ilya Sorokin of Russia will be part of his veteran countryman and mentor, Semyon Varlamov.

“I’m very happy to work with him here and learn from him,’’ Sorokin said.

Like the Rangers’ Shesterkin, Sorokin arrives in North America with significant experience in Russia’s K.H.L. He added that he was looking forward to adding to their rivalry from Russia.

“When we go to the ice, we don’t think about friendship, just about the game,’’ said Sorokin, a third-round pick by the Islanders in 2014.

The Islanders feature a core including the veteran forwards Brock Nelson, Josh Bailey, Jordan Eberle and Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who gave the Islanders a postseason spark with eight goals after he was acquired from Ottawa and signed to a six-year extension.

The health concerns the league dealt with last season have not eased, but the bubbles are gone and the players will be traveling and going home to their families as they play in mostly empty arenas.

“When we got in the bubble we were basically in the safest place on earth almost,’’ Islanders Coach Barry Trotz said. “Now you’re putting this out into the real world a little bit and you have to be extra diligent. You have all these protocols, and you can’t deviate a whole lot.”

Lee stated a key distinction could be the bizarre dynamic of enjoying with out followers at Nassau Coliseum, an enviornment recognized for its raucous crowds. Next fall, the Islanders will transfer to their new enviornment close to Belmont Park.

“It’s just one of those things where it’s the norm,’’ Lee said. “And it will be fun to see how that goes in all the other buildings. Our ability to adapt — whether it was in the bubble or now with what the season is going to bring — I think that bodes well for us to hit the ground running.”

The Rangers and Islanders may have eight conferences with division rivals, together with the Philadelphia Flyers, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals, making each recreation like a playoff recreation.

There can be many back-to-back video games in the identical venue (the Rangers will host the Islanders on Saturday evening as properly). The Islanders open their residence schedule on Monday at Nassau Coliseum towards Boston.

“We expect there to be a level of intensity that will start strong and get even stronger through the 56 games,’’ Gary Bettman, the N.H.L. commissioner, said at a news conference this week. “We think it should be exciting and should be competitive. And I think there will be some disappointed teams that don’t get to make the playoffs because the competition will be that intense.”

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