God bless Glen Sather. Normally I say that because of things like Holik or Keane or Redden or Drury. But today I say it because Sather made enough moves yesterday -- with enough vacuous explanations -- to make tonight about something a little more than the Avery Circus.
Wait, the return of the Avery Circus is Sather's fault, too? Oh well, his best moves are usually ones that patch over his mistakes.
New York Rangers (32-24-8, 7th/E) at New York Islanders (20-36-7, 30th)
7 p.m. | Nassau Coliseum | MSG/MSG+
Sure, we'll still hear plenty of blah blah blah about a tool who apparently can't "find his game" unless he's turned a team sport into a solo sideshow. (Please, MSG, yes! Show us his whining, yapping smirk more, for it reminds us of all that is great and wonderful about humanity.) But at least tonight people might be interested in the, you know, hockey side of this post-deadline matchup: What the Rangers lineup will look like with new leading scorer (ha!) Nik Antropov and blueliner Derek Morris -- to say nothing of the casting away of mistake Dmitri Kalinin and the loss of underused parts Nigel Dawes and Petr Prucha.
Meanwhile, we already know what the Islanders look like without Bill Guerin: 2-0 so far, oddly enough. Nate Thompson is finally back [whoops, but not ready], allowing Jon Sim to be banished (again), this time to AHL Bridgeport to await a likely summer buyout. Thomas Pock is also
healthy again back but not ready, to resume his personal mission to make me grit my teeth. Brendan Witt's suspension continues, but he is still an Islander.
The Youth Ascendency
This is it, folks. This begins the final evaluative stretch drive for the young kids, where Scott Gordon can cement his preferred habits into the young core on which his future will depend. What he does here on out is what he was hired to do.
This is where Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen continue to discover what they can do in this league at both ends of the ice. Where Josh Bailey can feel his way around to explore the extent of his vision. Where Sean Bergenheim can accelerate his recent bloom with the confidence that turns his energy bursts into goals, not penalties.
The Rangers have a freshly shaken roster now, but they need every point now. They're in a dogfight for the final seeds and their competitors -- Carolina and Buffalo just one point behind, while Pittsburgh is tied in 8th -- all just got better. It's tempting to say they've adapted to Tortorella now, but their 6-1 win was over the same Colorado club that rolled over to the Islanders 4-2 Monday.
Still, this match against a playoff bubble opponent should be a good test for the youngsters. I've said before that a rebuilding team still owes its home fans a good show. Thanks to their recent home form, at 14-13-5 the Islanders are now above OTL-tainted .500 for the first time since the home opener in October. No better way to please the home fans than by denting the playoff hopes of the city rivals.