Islanders at Rangers Preview: Finish them.

It is no huge surprise that the New York Rangers are reeling. The past two summers, as Glen Sather eagerly assumed the payroll weight known as Drury, Gomez, Redden and Rozsival, one could be struck by the underlying thought: "Wow, this will not end well."

But that recurring thought anticipated next year, and the year after, and the year after that ... this Islanders fan honestly didn't expect them to be this flat, this soon, to the point that their season teeters after going 1-6-2 in their last nine. Monday night in St. Louis brought another road loss and another blow to their confidence:

"You can see when they score a goal, we totally lose our composure and start running around," Lundqvist said. "Everybody gets so tight."

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New York Islanders (17-33-6, 30th) at Short Island Smurfs (30-22-6, 7th/E)

7 p.m. | Madison Square Garden | MSG+

The early-season pace-setters sit just six points above 10th place in the East. An Islanders win tonight -- rare, I know -- could move things into "unthinkable" territory right quick.

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Cablevision would have Rangers fans wait with baited breath for this man to save them.

But don't take my word for it. Taste the pain of the Rangers' faithful heathens, who are sounding positively desperate (and with Glen Sather's asset management and the team's uninspired play, who could blame them?):

Per Rangerland.net:

But stand pat, dear Glen. Things will surely turn around on their own. Or when Sean Avery gets here. Right? Right?

Next, Scotty Hockey:

And Glen Sather brought all of these idiots to Broadway. Ah well, there is always Wednesday against the Isles ... a loss there - no matter how close - will cause havoc.

Salivate at the thought. If the Rangers lose and somehow miss the playoffs after the start they had, this will be part of the rock bottom remembered long after.

Worse -- for the league and for this rivalry -- the dreaded apathy may be setting in among fans. Per HockeyRodent [emphasis added]:

Love the Rangers... Despise the Rangers... that's nothing but goodness to those fine folks at Penn Plaza. Just don't ever ignore the Rangers.

Evidently, that's precisely what's happening. ... I'm referring to the apparent waning of message board traffic by many of the regulars. And it's not just here. I'm seeing it all over Al Gore's interweb.

Bird assured me it's very real. And he related a conversation he had with Pete Rocha who runs Rangerland about this very topic. Pete's observation is that this winter has seen considerable apathy. This is in contrast to the emotions associated with those lean years just before the lockout.

As much as I like to poke fun at our rivals and knock back a frosty mug of hoppy schadenfreude with each Rangers setback, fan apathy is no good for anyone -- no really, not even apathy at the Garden! The league and all hockey fans lose when management mishandles any of the 30 opiate franchises to the point fans no longer check in for their fix. If things have gotten as bad as described with the Broadway franchise, is anyone, you know, going to do something about it? Or are they cool with the whole Decade of Average act?

Bah, That's Their Problem. Let's Think about Us

On the Islanders side, what to expect? Another chance for the youngsters to taste responsibility in an intense atmosphere. Frans Nielsen and Sean Bergenheim (yes, Sean, keep it up!) have been the bright young thang of recent games, which bodes well since we've already seen the potential for Bailey, Okposo and Comeau to click.

In goal, it will be interesting if Yann Danis gets the call in a hostile atmosphere. He's done a lot in a little bit of time to earn Scott Gordon's trust. A big performance at the Garden, when the Rangers desperately need a win, would only add to Danis' stock. But Joey MacDonald also has Gordon's trust, and he's coming off a shootout win over the Penguins.

However the Islanders do it, just do it. Score early. Bring out the Smurfs' inner anxiety. Draw out the eager-to-boo catcalls at the Garden. Make the chants for Sather roar. It's been a rough rebuilding season for Isles fans, and we've put up with a lot -- so we don't ask for much. Just give us this one pleasure, a high point to remember in the rebuild's Year Zero.

Do it, Islanders. Go. Finish them.

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