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Islanders Gameday: Life without Schremp

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St. Louis Blues (30-26-9, 11th/W) at New York Islanders (26-32-8, 14th/E)
7 p.m. EST | Nassau [gloriously unsponsored] Coliseum | MSG+, radio
Ribald band of Blues brothers: St. Louis Game Time

Injuries, they bring you down not in one fell swoop but rather cut by cut.

It's not that Rob Schremp was everything (though he was the most consistent Islanders forward for the last two months), it's that his shelving for the rest of the season exposes a weakness down the middle, particularly if Josh Bailey remains on left wing. Trent Hunter and Blake Comeau aren't on your fantasy team, but their injuries meant more Tim Jackman (and in Philadelphia, Trevor Gillies). Andrew MacDonald has been a revelation, but break his foot right after Andy Sutton is traded and suddenly you have Dustin Kohn and Dylan Reese learning on the job. If only Mark Streit could play 60 minutes.

Sometimes it's an opportunity for guys to step up -- Bruno Gervais had an excellent game in Philly (+2, 2 assists in 23 minutes), while Richard Park was old Richard Park in 18:15. Radek Martinek goes down and we discover MacDonald. But often those are only short bursts, and the added weight of injury loss exposes players' ceilings. With Schremp done, I'm afraid we're about to see more ceilings than revelations. I hear lottery balls a bouncin'.

Katie Strang reported via Twitter that the Islanders have not called anyone up for Schremp, while Comeau and Hunter both skated with the team this morning. She reported at Newsday that Comeau is in tonight's lineup, but Hunter is a ways off yet.

The topic of how to replace Schremp makes for fun debate, though: I don't imagine you want to see Park and Doug Weight as pivots on separate lines, but are the Isles ready to move Bailey back to his natural position when he's blossomed on the wing?

The Blues are on the road, where they've been strangely dynamite, and they know they have several weak opponents ahead to ease their flickering playoff push. The East-West divide is crazy this year: The Blues' 69 points is six points and three teams short of eighth place in the West. The Islanders' 60 points is 10 points and six teams shy of eighth place in the East. I would take all the Western playoff bubble teams in a meeting against the East's bottom three playoff teams as it stands today.

Islanders-Blues Common Threads

There is a reason (explained below) I know too much about this topic, but the Blues and Islanders have quite a history of shared but not necessarily well-known players.

Everyone knows about Pierre Turgeon (and his replacement with the Blues, Doug Weight): While Sneaky Pete's peak year was with the Islanders, his longest run of success was with the Blues, where Joel Quenneville kept on him about defensive play, and all Turgeon did was answer the bell and put up points. They let him walk for free in 2001 and swapped Jochen Hecht and Marty Reasoner for future Islander Doug Weight to replace him (signing Weight to a $9 million annual rate. Oh, those heady 2000s.).

But there are others, from the "nice talent" to the "lunch-pail worker" to the downright obscure. A few:

  • Wayne Merrick was a steady center throughout the Dynasty, but long before that, he was a rookie on Arbour's last Blues team.
  • Greg Gilbert caught the last half of the Dynasty, then became a go-to soldier for Mike Keenan, which is how Gilbert finished his career as a Blue.
  • Bob Bassen was a lovable grinder who started with the Islanders, then traveled all around including two separate stints with the Blues.
  • Bruce Affleck was an unremarkable Blues defenseman with a wonderful '70s 'stache, but his final NHL game was his only game as an Islander.
  • Jeff Norton had his longest tenure with his first team, the Islanders. After going to San Jose, he was traded to the Blues for ... Craig Janney, who had his peak years with the Blues but later finished on fumes with the Islanders. (If Janney were a stock, he'd be Enron. From being worth traded for Adam Oates, down to Peter Nedved, to Jeff Brown, to Jeff Norton, to Darren Turcotte, to Louie DeBrusk, to scrap metal.)
  • One of the funny things about '90s Islanders-Blues encounters: Brett Hull had a legendary shot, but one-on-one he couldn't even deke around a pylon. But Richard Pilon was another matter. At least two of Hull's very rarely successful one-on-one moves victimized the hard-hittin' Pilon, who seemed to get stuck in indecision when facing the Campbell/Western Conference star, perhaps not realizing Hull's threat was when you didn't see him, not when Hull was telegraphing his lone one-on-one move right in front of your face. Pilon was a big free agent signing for the Blues in 2001-02, but per tradition he suffered an injury (wrist this time) and played only eight games to finish out his career.
  • Do you feel like 1st-round, 5th-overall pick Eric Brewer was a disappointment to you? Yeah, Blues fans know the feeling. He's captain. The popular team line is, "Don't hate him because he's not Pronger," which totally misses the point. No one said he was Pronger, but someone in management said he should be captain and signed for $4.5 million per year. Brewer is not awful, but he is also not what team management claims.
  • Bill Guerin resurrected his post-Stars career with the Blues, was flipped to San Jose at the deadline (supposedly Garth Snow tried to get him before getting Ryan Smyth), then converted that into a payday and captaincy of the Islanders, which he in turn converted into a second Stanley Cup ring alongside some kid in Pittsburgh.
  • And of course, though they never overlapped teams, the reason Brent and Duane Sutter were sought as valuable pieces of the Islanders Cup years was because older brother Brian established the "Sutter hockey" brand in the NHL with the Blues a couple of years before.

The really obscure:

Current Blue/farmhand vet Derek Armstrong got his start with the Isles. ... The talented but damaged Slovak Vladimir Orszagh started with the Isles, excelled with the Predators, then saw his career cut short (chronic knee issue) in a brief stint with the Blues. ... The much-traveled Tony Hrkac, who is still playing minor pro at age 44, started with the Blues and had a brief stint with the Isles (acquired for Ted Drury) in 2000-01. ... Both Islanders and Blues fans know what it is to have Dallas Eakins briefly join your blueline. ... Likewise Vladimir "chubby bunny" Chebaturkin.

The list of obscure connections goes on and on (hiya, Jamie Rivers), but I'll stop there. Following both teams for so long makes for some personal fun when an obscure or career-twilight player lands with the other. Usually my reaction is, "Damn, I know what he was supposed to be, and I know what he is now." But sometimes, as is the case with Turgeon and Weight, it's like a second helping of dessert.


I Got the Blues

Last time these two teams met -- in a rarity, it was actually earlier this season -- David Perron did this:

I was at that game, and it was weird for me, as Isles-Blues games always are. I explain this from time to time (sorry to older readers who have heard it), but I'm in St. Louis. Long-story short, my NHL fan history goes like this: Father hit these shores via New York, landing in Illinois during the Original Six era when Glenn Hall and Al Arbour were Blackhawks. Father moves to St. Louis, where an NHL expansion team arrives featuring ... Arbour and Hall. Arbour later becomes Blues coach but -- like Scotty Bowman before him -- gets the short haircut from management and moves on. (My favorite Arbour story: "Scotty says, you take that Islanders job, you'll lose for 10 years." Not quite, Scotty. Not quite. Ten years later Arbour was completing a dynasty and Bowman was losing his job in Buffalo.)

I come along and my father, loyal to his favorites to the end, directs me from the annual heartache of the Blues to the dynamo Arbour has guided on Long Island. So as a kid I follow both teams, and the obsession grows because they never compete for supremacy at the same time (except in 1980-81, which was too early for me to appreciate). Without much conflict, the obsession with both teams grew unfettered. It's been like having a favorite NL and AL team. Twice the fun, and twice the kicks to the stomach.

On the rare occasions when the teams meet, it feels like watching mommy and daddy fight. Or maybe like a hockey parent watching two siblings face off. I just hope they both play well and no one gets hurt.

So tonight I may be around the game threads, or I might linger at a happy hour and watch via the pub screen. You understand.

Prediction: Dwayne Roloson stands on his head; Chris Mason allows a soft goal.