Last episode of the Battle of New York, the Rangers' divisional lead was slipping. Now, they're not even in position for home-ice advantage in the playoffs. Their fans -- those poor, cursed souls -- generally have a sense that the team's record flatters them. That something isn't right. Pick your
mole villain, and Rangers fans have probably torched him (or her, if anyone's still on the Ice Girls' case).
Short Island Smurfs (25-15-4, 5th/East) at Long Island Islanders (12-26-4, 30th)
7 p.m. EST | Nassau Coliseum | MSG+
Now of course, the Rangers are fighting to resemble their hot Melrose-launched start, while the Islanders are just fighting to stay healthy enough -- 262 man games lost and counting (Rangers: less than 10) -- to evaluate who to keep for next year. As always when this fixture combines vastly different fortunes, there remains the hope that the rivalry conspires for a great game. As Steve Zipay reported in his Newsday blog:
Several players---and coach Tom Renney---are wary of the Islanders. "They always seem to give us their best efforts," he said. "I don't know if it's a trap game," said Wade Redden. "When a team is struggling like they are, they'll come out hard and you have to just stay patient and something will break open"
Small solace, but it's true: No matter where these teams are in a season, these games end up playing out like their own separate drama -- minus a predictable ending.
The Rangers are just 16th in the league at 5-on-5 play. But the Islanders continue to be jaw-droppingly overmatched in that department. The Islanders special teams are actually alright -- as the Rangers have learned while on the PP in earlier meetings this season: There's actually a legit reason Mark Streit will be in the All-Star game, and Wade Redden will not. (Alas, the inverse can be said of the fate and weight of the two franchise goalies.)
Finishing a look at which teams have the most stoppages in their games, James Mirtle inadvertently summed up the Rangers like so:
The Rangers lead the way in fewest stoppages mainly because they don't take many penalties, don't score all that much and are solid defensively.
So it could be a relatively quick game. It should be another fun one.
With Frans Nielsen and Nate Thompson returning after long absences -- not to mention top center Doug Weight out with his injury -- the youth are at last on full display. Take on a bigger role and sink or swim, Scott Gordon has announced. Game on.
Check the Islanders sidebar links for other previews. There will be the usual game thread here (posted a little before game time), and B.D. Gallof and his misguided brother will have a sibling rivalry tit-for-tat posted by morning and a furniture-throwing live blog by night.
Previous episodes this season: