Islanders Gameday: Resumed, The Battle of New York Has

[Update: Per Botta, Roloson indeed in -- and Bruno Gervais scratched, pleasing a few readers I'm sure.]

Well how about that: Last year at this point, the Short Island Smurfs were 23 points above the Islanders. This year, the Rangers' hot start wasn't as long, their luck not as strong, so the oldest regional rivalry in the NHL resumes with each team at 31 points, though Sather's city boys possess a game in hand.

Episodes II and III of this year's New York Derby take place tonight and tomorrow. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't pumped. I'd be disingenuous if I said I wasn't pissed that the Islanders played so vacuously Monday, as if looking past the Panthers toward this home-and-home.

Nyi-lown_medium              Nyr-r_medium

Long Island Islanders (12-14-7) at Short Island Smurfs (14-15-3)
7 p.m. EST | Madison Square Garden | MSG, MSG+2, radio
Home of Misspent Youth:
Blueshirt Banter

Of course, seeing Glen Sather's handiwork all over the Blueshirts is always a cheap, instant pick-me-up. We may assign inflated importance to these games -- and damn right, that's what fandom is all about. But no matter how big these derby games feel to either side, they can never be significant or influential enough to make the Redden or Drury contracts disappear. And that, why that is a beautiful thing.

Since these teams met in October -- the start of an Islanders four-game win streak -- the Islanders have gone 11-9-2. The Rangers in the interim have gone 6-12-2. They just got Brandon Dubinsky back from a broken hand, and John Tortorella is set to ride his top six forwards hard. But squeezed against the cap and now having demoted Matt Gilroy, it's hard not to see them as Marian Gaborik plus Henrik Lundqvist ... and a pile of dust.

If I'm honest, I still say Tortorella is a good coach who should be able to get that team to squeeze into the playoffs in the end. But the brand of hockey that sold me on Torts involved stars in Tampa Bay -- each of whom in 2004 was preferable to his Blueshirt counterpart in 2009.

But despite their struggles, the Rangers still score more (2.69 vs. 2.52) and give up less (2.97 vs. 3.12) than the Islanders. (And yet: The Rangers haven't scored more than two goals in 11 of their last 13 games.) The Smurfs' shots per game are higher (29.6 vs. 29.3), their shots conceded lower (30.2 vs. 33), and their special teams, too, are ranked higher (21.5%, 83.8% vs. 18.6%, 77.6%) than the Islanders.

Still, the old truism stands: This is a rivalry game, so throw all those stats out the window. Bring it.

Let's. Go. Islanders.

Prediction: The preponderance of evidence remains clear: 4-time Stanley Cup champ Denis Potvin still doesn't suck.

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