Columbus Blue Jackets (4-6-1) at New York Islanders (2-7-1)
7 p.m. | Nassau Coliseum | MSG+
Blue Jackets blog: Light the Lamp
The Blue Jackets: so different, yet so similar to our Islanders in 2008. Sure, no Cups, no playoffs -- ever -- no bloody rivalry. But a strong fanbase's patience tested by a previous regime's reign of error. At long last, the Blue Jackets are going about it "the right way," holding assets, collecting prospects, hiring a coach with the will to stick the program.
The patience-taxing problem? This sincere organic build should have started years ago. So gone are the days of 18,000 fans applauding just for the team showing up to lose 7-1. The founding owner died without ever seeing his club make the playoffs. And while Blue Jackets management finally figured some things out, so has the rest of the reconstituted Norris division. Detroit is Detroit. Nashville has achieved steady ascendancy despite its revenue issues. Now sleeping hotbeds Chicago and St. Louis are on their way back. Which leaves the Blue Jackets, at least for now, in the division's last place again.
So tonight, when you root and plead for the Islanders to play 60 minutes -- to finally win a winnable game again -- if it happens, do shed a tear of sympathy for the Blue Jackets fan. Because he's been through a lot, too. He's bought into the NHL. He's done everything a fan needs to help a franchise get off the ground. He's given the club plenty of leeway, and even pulled back his wallet -- as a good fan should to force change -- to say, "Show me something." But his franchise has failed him. It owes him.
I mean, can you imagine seven years without a playoff appearance? Sorry, bad question. How about without ever having tasted the good life -- the drug that is hockey's postseason? At the same stage in their own history, the Islanders were beginning a dynasty. So frankly, Blue Jackets fan impresses me. He's due. Just not tonight. Please.
To the game: The Blue Jackets come in having just given up on an experiment to use Rick Nash at center.
Their best natural center and hot young thing, Derick Brassard, is being protected by coach Ken Hitchcock and kept off the top line. This thrusts former Flyer R.J. Umberger back into the role of #1 center -- a "go with what you got" choice whose miscast nature should ring familiar to Islanders fans.
Did I mention "retaining assets" earlier? Old Islander prospect Raffi Torres returns to town in another new uniform, having been acquired over the summer for Gilbert Brule, a youngster Hitchcock and Co. lost patience with. Expect him to run at our undersized defensemen. It's unclear whether Towering Giant Mitch Fritz will be there to respond.
Why might Fritz, who handled Georges Laraque so well in his first NHL fight, not be there? Well, in theory, this is a cross-conference game that shouldn't get too chippy. IIn theory. But truthfully, after a two-game timeout Jeff Tambellini is expected back in the lineup. The worst sign about that for Isles fans and for GM Garth Snow? Don't tell me you didn't see this coming... The coach is now comparing Tambellini's career trajectory to one Andy Hilbert.
Nice work if you can get it, but ...