The Senators are technically the current sixth seed in the Eastern Conference, but we're not going to punish them like that when they're three points ahead of the Southleast-leading (and third seed by default) Panthers. We may punish them for having two more games in the bag than anyone this side of Carolina, but not for competing in a division where playoff spots are earned, not bannered.
Oddly, this is the first meeting of the season between these the Islanders and Sens, these two clubs who have sipped from the Campoli chalice and found it unfulfilling. In theory, the Sens' playoff hopes (and the Isles' playoff fantasies) could hinge on how these four meetings play out. Knowing the NHL, there will be four games but 11 total points awarded.
Despite the advantage of more games played, the Sens do rank 8th in the East by points percentage, so their presence in this hunt is real if somewhat surprising. The franchise itself entered this season in confessed rebuild mode, but a Daniel Alfredsson revival and top-10 offense and 5-on-5 play has helped them overcome a bottom-10 PK and the league's third-most goals allowed per game (3.06 GAA).
Craig Anderson is carrying the load with 46 starts. Robin Lehner, the feisty Sens goaltending prospect who tends to find on-ice trouble -- even between periods -- will not be riding in to relieve any time soon. (While Lehner struggles in the AHL? Kevin Poulin wins Goalie of the Month.) Speaking of the Sound Tigers (Casey Cizikas also won a monthly honore), Fornabaio's weekly Bridgeport chat was yesterday afternoon.
The Senators resume the Battle Of Ontario Saturday night with the Leafs, so if one is looking for pre-packaged narratives, one can hope the Sens "look past" the Islanders like some Dec. 23rd morning.
Newsday had the early word explaining that Josh Bailey and Rhett Rakhshani -- who had Bridgeport magic last year during Bailey's brief purgatory -- will stay together. Jack Capuano confirmed the rest of the lineup remains the same except with Evgeni Nabokov starting.
More pertinently, tonight probably turns on whether the Islanders can hold serve at 5-on-5 and get their powerplay some opportunities to do damage. With the Bailey-Rakhshani experiment continuing, it'd be huge if that combo can give them a third decent line.
The Islanders appear to have finally reversed the Hurricanes hex with three wins over their curious nemesis in January. Their last two meetings with the Sens last year turned out as victories. Are the days of a Senators hex also behind them? There are three meetings this month alone (tonight and Feb. 20, 26) to find out.
Brooklyn Watch Party Tuesday
Note for the Brooklynites and Brooklyn-accessibles:
We are doing another Islanders Fans in Brooklyn game watch for Tuesday against the Flyers - if you can help spread the word again, that would be great. Planning to meet at Machavelle, a sports bar near Atlantic Terminal, more information on our page.
I won't be there -- I live in a land where cow-tipping is still an acceptable Friday night hoot -- but if you can, by all means go.
A Pause, to Glance at Edmonton
Sam Gagner, just wow. Word has been they'd trade Gagner, so ... sell high, sell high! Also over there, word is carefully couched that IF the Rangers would look to acquire Ryan Smyth [FanShot] then yada yada yada. You know the next question: Would he cry?
And at Oilers East, the Rangers have found someone to take Eric Christensen off their hands. What's with teams always doing the Rangers favors?