For the Islanders, the good news is that Martin Brodeur -- nearing a return -- is still out. The bad news is Brodeur's absence hasn't really made a lick of difference to the machine-like march of Devils prosperity. Scott Clemmensen is doing just fine (which, no surprise, feeds fuel to Brodeur's haters). [Update: In a sign of how much fear the Islanders strike in Brent Sutter, Kevin Weekes will start in goal, and Jay Pandolfo will dress after nine straight healthy scratches. "So you're saying there's a chance?!"]
In the Islanders net, I assume Joey MacDonald will get his turn because of the back-to-back after Danis' heavy, shootout-intensified workload last night, but I've already made that argument.
New York Islanders (16-31-6, 30th) at New Jersey Devils (34-17-3, 3rd/E)
7:05 p.m. EST | The [some such corporate spawn] Center | MSG+/+2
The last two seasons, this series has demonstrated the tyranny of the small sample size. Last year, despite several close games, the Devils couldn't buy a win until late in the year. Yet I doubt any honest fan really thought the Isles "had the Devils number." This season, going back to opening night, the Devils have had little trouble sweeping the Isles aside, led by a first star the Islanders should have drafted. A couple were close on the scoreboard, but none were close in game play.
I took some delight in seeing the Devils smother the Rangers earlier this week. Granted, yet another reminder of the insane skill of the Islander Who Wasn't was rough. (Don't look at Parise's goal tally; it will only make you cry.) But seeing the Rangers decay -- so much that "They need Avery" is a real, widespread argument -- well, that is a greater good. ("Faust, calling Dr. Faust. We need to consummate a deal.")
The Islanders are coming off a shootout loss to the Kings, who shocked New Jersey in Newark before the Devils took their vengeance out on the Rangers. Like a true battered fan, it is tempting to see the Islanders' effort and 5-on-5 production in the Kings game as a positive, a sign of improvement. Certainly they're looking at it that way:
"Everyone is playing as a unit, all four lines," said forward Andy Hilbert ... "Yann has been great, and that's a huge key. We're in every game. You have to enjoy yourself and compete. If you can look at yourself in the mirror, you can go home with a happy face. We've competed immensely."
I'm trying. I know that a top-two pick is ultimately what this franchise needs. But I can't be totally numb to losses. This in-season treading water can be taxing: The Islanders' lack of depth is exposed by every injury, putting them in a whole. The four-game win streak was perhaps their "healthiest" point of the season, and that came without Rick DiPietro or Andy Sutton (not to mention Mike Sillinger, whose possibly final season was, sadly, a total wash).
Now continuing without powerplay talisman Mark Streit, it's hard to see tonight's game having a higher ceiling than a "good effort" in a close loss. But please, prove me wrong.