Ottawa series could put Islanders in an ugly place

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New York Islanders (4-9-2) at Ottawa Senators (6-7-2)

7:30 p.m. EST | [bank of some sort] Place | MSG+

Sens blogs: Scarlett Ice | Sens Army | Battle of Ontario

It's another battle of the cellar-dwellers! That's a recurring theme lately as the Islanders keep facing teams they could bump into last place if only they'd ... win. If they somehow swept this home-and-home Thursday and Saturday, the 15th-in-the-East Islanders would level themselves with the Senators, who sit uncomfortably last in the Adams Northeast Division.

Yes, the Sens are underachieving, Captain Alfredsson is breaking things at practice, and -- in a shock to Islanders fans everywhere -- Jarkko Ruutu is doing stupid things to get suspended. (Somewhere in Russia, Chris Simon smiled.) But the Sens are 10-1-1 against the Isles in the last 12 meetings.

My greater concern, though, is if the Islanders don't come out of this series with a minimum 2-3 points, an already rough start to this season is going to transform into season-long doormat status pretty quickly. A record of 4-11 (or thereabouts) would concretely take the honeymoon sheen off coach Scott Gordon's start -- and turn what we thought by February would be a "well, it's a rebuild" season into a six-month-long slog.

"As frustrated as we are, because we probably should have a better record and everybody wants to win here, at the end of the day, you're playing a game. Anybody will tell you, the fun part is winning. Right now, there's not a lot of that going on. You go out and work hard, but enjoy it. I said, 'Even though the result stunk, you're playing a game you love. At least you're going to work doing something you love. How'd you like to be a stockbroker right now?'
                                                                                >>Scott Gordon, to Newsday


That's fine -- it doesn't hurt to be realistic about this season and about what role it plays in a longer time horizon. And some real-world perspective on the unbearable lightness of hockey always warms the heart.

But giving fans at least a couple months of the audacity of Ted Nolan-esque hope would have made this season go down a little easier. Likewise, Gordon's task of keeping this mix of youth and vets on his system would be easier if the illusion of something attainable remained. A .250 win percentage at the quarter pole, if it gets that way, would make such illusions a tough sell.

Granted, the Islanders have been sideswiped by a plague of injuries almost on par with that which finally derailed Nolan's 2007-08 season last spring. But it would be a shame if the injuries and new-system adjustment had knocked them into a cellar path for the entire season. A shame, too, if that ignites premature calls for selling UFA's Doug Weight and Bill Guerin -- two vets who like Long Island and who, I suspect, will not want to go down the "trade deadline rental" path once again.

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