[Updated with lineup maneuvers below.]
New York Islanders (14-17-7, 4th/Atl) at New York Rangers (18-16-3, 3rd/Atl)
7 p.m. EST | Madison Square Garden | MSG, MSG+2, radio
Children Who Were Left Behind: Blueshirt Banter
Other Interest: WJC opening games at 4, 6 and 8 p.m. on NHL Network
The problem with humiliating your rivals in their own rink is that sometimes it wakes them up. Since the Islanders' 2-1 win at Madison Square Garden earlier this month -- and to be fair, much of the Rangers' humiliation was self-inflicted -- the Short Island Smurfs have won four straight. Something about hitting rock bottom can do that for a team with a stellar goaltender ... before their next relapse, of course.
In the four games since, Henrik Lundqvist has allowed only one goal in each game, save for the two he gave up in the rematch at the Coliseum when he weathered a first-period Isles barrage before his team ultimately ran away with things. Now both teams head into Battle of New York: Episode IV, feeling pretty good about themselves after entering the holiday break on high notes.
Once again, this one should down to how both teams start after two days off, as well as how the struggling Islanders special teams perform against the Rangers' far superior counterparts (we're talking 22.1% vs. 16.1%; 85.4% vs. 75%). Getting shots on Lundqvist from better positions than last time is key. Getting continued heroic work from (presumably) Dwayne Roloson is also a must.
Updates: Roloson confirmed, Jesse Joensuu down to Bridgeport, Tim Jackman back in the lineup, Jeff Tambellini still in purgatory. I think this was a positive stint from Joensuu. More to learn, and the proverbial "consistency" to be acquired, but at times he looked like a fit, like someone who has the potential to leverage his size. As with all prospects, much more time will tell.
WJC: Where the Isles Things Are
While the focus tonight is on the rivalry game, the focus this afternoon (and for the next 12 days) will be shared with the World Junior Championship tourney across the border and over the prairies in Saskatchewan, where a good sampling of the Islanders' future will be on display.
Normally kids don't excite me much until they're in an NHL uniform (part of that, admittedly, is because of post-goal reactions like this, which make me feel like two rosters of Sean Averys are in a pubescent taunt-off). But this year's tournament has too many NYI participants for me to ignore. Start with the opening game, Latvia versus Canada, which features Travis Hamonic and Calvin de Haan, hopefully the salt and pepper of the Islanders' future blueline.
Check TSN's tourney schedule for when those two and Jyri Niemi (Fin.), Kiril Petrov (Rus.), Matt Donovan (U.S.) and just maybe Sweden backup Anders Nilsson will be playing. No word on whether Thomas Pock suits up for Team Austria. (Yes, that is a joke.) Chris Botta says Anton "Curious Petrov Pawn" Klementyev has been cut by Russia. If two of those guys play 100 games in Islanders uniforms, we'll really know that Mike Milbury is gone.
For U.S. residents with NHL Network, check their site for when those boys will be televised. (I assume for you Canadians, the tourney airs on all public and over-the-air channels 24/7.) It's a 10-team, two-group, round-robin tournament, with the group winners getting byes to the semifinals. It goes by quickly; by the time you remember to write "2010" on your notes, it'll be over.
Today's televised games:
|Latvia vs. Canada||4 p.m. EST
|Czech Republic vs. Sweden||6 p.m. EST|
|Slovakia vs. USA||8 p.m. EST|