But it never feels like the season has really gotten into the groove until the first Islanders-Rangers derby. Sure, I thought I was "into it" the past 10 games; then this one came up on the schedule, and I felt that old familiar boil, blood pressure rising, palms sweating.
It's Islanders-Rangers. It's just different.
Lost, Misguided Souls: Blueshirt Banter
Lineup news: As you likely know, Marian Gaborik is probably out. It strikes me that he's like Radek Martinek (except for the whole all-world talent thing): Just when fans get used to what he can do at his best, injury strikes.
Meanwhile, for the Islanders the platoon continues: Dwayne Roloson is in. Flu-less [update: It was indeed the swine flu, per Katie Strang] Doug Weight is back, lined with Josh Bailey and Jeff Tambellini, at the expense of Blake Comeau. For the PP, that's an upgrade. At 5-on-5, it's actually closer to status quo. (Rob Schremp and Freddy Meyer also remain scratched.)
The question for tonight, beyond all the rivalry theater, is whether Gaborik's absence hamstrings the Rangers the way it often did the Wild. They're a solid team even without him; but a superstar talent's absence has a way of exposing warts.
Why the Rangers Should Win: They're scoring more than 1.7 goals more per game (3.83 vs. 2.1), they're powerplay is doing better than the Isles' (27.4% vs. 20%), and their PK is doing better, too (86.4% vs. 81.1%).
Why the Islanders Should Win: Two of those last three stats are strongly aided by a guy named Gaborik, who should be absent. Of course the third, is strongly aided by a guy named Lundqvist. The Islanders will need their first true show-stopper performance of the season from Roloson. Mostly, the Isles should win if they have any respect for what is right and good and holy with the world.
Meanwhile, a factor for both special teams: Are the Islanders truly getting better at the faceoff dot, or is this a 10-game fluke? They're at 53.1% so far; NYR are at 49.3%.
I mentioned it at the end of the game recap the other night, and to my surprise it doesn't seem to have come up with those around the team: Why was Brendan Witt kept to just 9:04 TOI Monday, including zilch for the latter part of the 3rd and all of OT? I mean, I can think of an answer or two, but I'm wondering if Scott Gordon had a similar reason or if something health-related came up. History would lead me to think injury, but at some point the square peg/round hole situation is going to resurface.
But anyway, I suspect we're looking at:
Moulson | Tavares | Okposo
Bergenheim | Nielsen | Sim
Tambellini | Bailey | Weight
Park | Thompson | Jackman
Jeff Tambellini has had a nice couple of games, but if he scored an important goal tonight ... well just imagine how his identity would start to change (even if only for a while)?
And on the blueline: How is Witt used? ... Martinek was used to shut down Ovechkin -- if Gaborik played, I'd expect a similar matchup. In Montreal, Martinek had both Andy Sutton and Jack Hillen as frequent partners after Witt's time receded ... If Mark Streit continues to slump (well, slump by Streit's standards), does Gordon dial back his minutes at all?
Guess that's one (of many) reasons we watch the games. Particularly this one.
Prediction: Gaborik doesn't score.
Social aside: If you're in the area and happen to hit Croxley's in Farmingdale, you better give Jim from SBN's Blueshirt Banter some hell. Seriously, he's a good guy -- despite his severely misguided hockey allegiance -- and he's done a fantastic job with that site in just eight months.