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Last-place Isles host not-last Rangers

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(Couldn't bear to call it "first place." Not now...)

The first episode of 2008-09's Islanders-Rangers opera comes at a rough time for the Isles. First, the Rangers (per family tradition, we may call them Short Island Smurfs from time to time) lead the conference -- and only partly thanks to the extra games in Prague. Second, the Islanders sit at the opposite end, sometimes referred to as "fifteenth." Worse, the Islanders, per their form the last couple years, have a lot of money on the injury list.

Caution: Here be dragons...

Rick DiPietro apparently re-tweaked his knee (no one really knows in The New NHL: "Where Information Is Contraband"). Stalward D-man Brendan Witt's knee is so swollen he can't get an MRI yet. The Isles' other large D-man, Andy Sutton, is still recovering from hand surgery. Oft-injured but steady-when-healthy Radek Martinek is out for several weeks because of his shoulder (we think). Injured centers Mike Sillinger and 2008 first-rounder Josh Bailey have played a combined two exhibition games (both Bailey's). Oh, and d-man Freddy Meyer, who scored his first goal of the season Saturday, is out with an undisclosed injury.

Alas, the above is all speculation in the new NHL, brought to you by your genius NHL GM Club: "Promoting the Game Is Job None."

We do have reason to suspect those players will not dress tonight, but the reasons are unverified. So while what follows is unlikely, we could just as easily conclude:

DiPietro -- day to day, overhandling the puck?
Sillinger -- 2-4 weeks, mid-life crisis?
Witt -- 2-6 weeks, surfing incident?
Sutton -- day-to-day, manicure? (Wait, no: the club did eventually admit hand surgery.)
Martinek -- out, anxiety attack?
Bailey -- week-to-week, homesickness?
Meyer -- day-to-day, first-goal hangover?

We may never know.

Nonetheless, each game in this Islanders season -- including the first Islanders-Short Island Smurfs match -- is a lab experiment: To test both the rookies' progress and the adoption of Scott Gordon's system. Gordon shared some interesting thoughts on both of those topics with Greg Logan. The short of it: Okposo's OK. Bergenheim: learning from mistakes. Tambellini and Nielsen: not great, but Gordon has patience. Weight and Guerin: Sorry about this season and all, but it can take a year (or three) to get a new system installed and humming.

In other news:

  • The Islanders reveal their third jersey tonight -- not on the ice, but to business execs, and then to fans during/after the game. Count on some photos appearing around the Web tonight. Their on-ice debut will be Saturday vs. the Canadiens.
  • Canes GM Jim Rutherford is understandably peeved that he's lost another player to a hard, concussive check, after former Hurricane-for-a-ring Doug Weight hit rookie Brandon Sutter. The problem I have is, this was not a head-hunting job. This was Weight keeping his arm in (unlike a lot of fierce hitters) while Sutter -- at the last moment -- pulled a roller hockey-esque head-first lean, leading with his head, to try to poke the puck around Weight. It turns my stomach to see anyone get a concussion like that. But I don't think Weight "took advantage" of Sutter. I think he was surprised to find Sutter, at the last moment, do something you normally see in no-checking leagues (i.e. where you can count on your opponent having to avoid hitting you). There is only a little bit Weight could have done to "pull out" of the hit; and in that split-second situation, that's not something Weight should have expected to have to do.

Game thread and any new notes will be up prior to game time.