A friendly reminder of how hard it is to improve your standings lot in life: Four weeks ago the Islanders and Flyers faced off as the Atlantic Division's bottom two teams, with the Isles at one game below NHL quasi-".500" and the Flyers a few games below that.
Other than the narratives and the lineup things that make fans go bump in the night, not much has changed.
I mean, yes, since then the Isles' position has inched slightly better and the Flyers' slightly worse, but the short season, the three-point regime, and the inflationary bubble in the East is such that a good run here and a bad run there to swap their positions would hardly be extraordinary.
That said, if the Islanders want to keep this good vibe thing going, they need to stomp down (but not in a Pronger way) on the Flyers now. They simply didn't show up -- none of them -- during the embarrassing home defeat that briefly resuscitated the Flyers season in February. They must show up tonight.
If they do so, it will be with Eric Boulton and without Marty Reasoner, who is a healthy scratch. We joked earlier about Reasoner being scratched in a Jarome Iginla sort of way -- they're protecting him for a trade! -- but the far more likely explanation is that Reasoner committed boo-boos (and continued his remarkable futility when presented with scoring chances) last game, and the Flyers have an idiot named Zac [sic] Rinaldo.
Rinaldo skates around 10 minutes per game (sometimes higher, often much lower), hits things, talks trash and is on the Shanaban radar. Hilariously, his three goals give him a 23% shooting percentage this season because he's only managed 13 shots on goal. He fulfills all of your stereotypes about Flyers hockey. Maybe he and Boulton find each other for a bout of Mutual Job Security.
As noted in the a.m., the Flyers are without Danny Briere and Andrej Meszaros, and it's fair to wonder whether Meszaros' body can hold up any more. Erik Gustafsson will play if Nick Grossmann cannot. Bruno Gervais is expected to play; he's averaged over 16 minutes in 29 games this season.
Meanwhile, if you think the Isles are overly focused on "battle level," just know that the Flyers apparently lost their last game because of a "lack of heart." So there. But really, they're so wrecked by injuries and a weak blueline that we suggest it's time to call the 76ers.
Fun fact: The Islanders are minus-11 in goal differential on the season. That would be minus-4 if you threw out the beating they took at home to the Flyers, and better still if they hadn't conceded eight empty net goals thus far, which is the highest in the league. The second highest? The Flyers, who have conceded six.
Fan pedantry: This OCD about the tone of the "Let's go Flyers" chant in Philly reminds me of how odd I find it that Sharks fans turn "Sharks" into a two-syllable word ("Let's-go Shah-arks," which sounds really neutered).
Anyway, you know what's up tonight: The Isles have won two in a row seven different times this year. If they finally make it a three-game string, then we can entertain the thought that a good run of luck will alter their season. If not, alas, there's always next year.
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