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Islanders Gameday: Featuring a Sutter Nepotist Sandwich

This game was once supposed to mean more. When in September Dion Phaneuf took one of his typically reckless, third-man-in, "whoa I'm skating backwards and out of control but oops is this my arm?" runs on Kyle Okposo in a preseason game , you could circle this one on the calendar as a chance to exact some form of revenge on FrankenPh'neuf (who had approximately 72 teammates step in for him that night) or on the Flames' playoff hopes.

Now Phaneuf is gone and hilariously seen as captain material in Toronto, and my grudge on this incident follows him there. Happy are the Flames players who no longer have to step in to fight Phaneuf's battles. But the Flames' playoff hopes remain stressed, as they sit four points behind 8th-place Detroit with nine games left. If you want to exact some form of revenge by proxy -- as BC lobbies in his FanPost -- a regulation win would do the trick.

Cal-atl_medium                  Nyi-oldzoom_medium
Calgary Flames (37-27-9, 9th/W) at New York Islanders (29-34-10, 28th)
Nassau [
gloriously unsponsored] Veterans Memorial Coliseum
7 p.m. EDT | MSG+2 (
twice the plus, half the resolution!) | radio
Tenders of the Flame:
Matchsticks and Gasoline

Speaking of cheapshots, with Sean Avery taking out Dustin Kohn last night with a wrestling move, Mark Flood is up as an emergency recall. The good news for the Islanders is Avery took out their least important healthy defenseman (insert your Bruno Gervais quip here). Scott Gordon has generally protected Kohn with minimal minutes. Of the defensemen I never imagined would be here back in September, the older Dylan Reese has been (rightly, I think) Gordon's preference.

GP G A P Sh +/- PIM
2009-10 - Mark Flood (AHL Bridgeport) 58 10 22 32 157 E 35

Flood is 25, a Canadiens 2003 6th-round pick who the Isles signed last summer after he spent three seasons in Albany. He's scored 10 goals this season for the second time in his AHL career, but obviously you wouldn't expect him to take an offensive role in this emergency callup. Still, some offense-igniting breakout passes would be refreshing after this team laid a massive egg last night at the Garden.

If any of you Albany/AHL watchers have more to say on Flood -- not to be confused with the U2, Nine Inch Nails and Smashing Pumpkins producer -- let us know in comments.

Sutter Nepotism Sandwich

As a close follower of the Islanders and Blues dating back to the early '80s, I was at one time or another a fan of five of the "original six" Sutters. Everyone but Darryl saw time with a team I rooted for, though all moved on to join the enemy either as player or coach (often both). Stylistically, they defined the hustle and sacrifice of the Canadian hockey ideal for me: Hard work plus a little talent, a lot of grit, and a refusal to give up. There was the cliched "honor" to their game that so many of today's "agitators" -- to use the current euphemism for spineless cowards -- lack. Collectively, they were hardly innocent little angels, but if someone had an issue with their actions, the Sutters didn't run away, they didn't turtle, and by god they didn't hide behind a linesman or teammate or rule technicality.

I can still picture the 1985-86 Topps hockey card series, when the cards for Brent, Brian and Darryl featured each in up-close, non-action, "waiting at the faceoff to go to battle" poses. It might as well have been The Sutter Pose:  Potential energy, indicating at the drop of the puck they would put it all out there like their job depended on it. (Duane and Ron, if I recall that year's series right, got action shots along the boards, while Ronnie's twin Rich was typically left out of the set.)

When Brian coached the Blues and the club acquired Rich, and soon afterward the more talented twin Ron, the expected cries of nepotism emerged. Yet it was later reported the coach was far harder on his brothers than anyone else, per Sutter style. Whether or not Brian went out of his way to make sure his brothers didn't receive special treatment (except for the kind of special treatment no one wants), it was not an ideal situation. While Brian was hardest on the twins in the locker room, the media and some fans would be hardest on them outside the locker room. It was a situation they could not win.

Some context: Rod Brind'Amour, who as a rookie did not look out of place in the scoring race next to Jeremy Roenick and Mike Modano, hit a wall under Brian Sutter. Yes, Brind'Amour, seen as a great two-way warrior for much of his career, struggled enough under Brian Sutter that they traded him for Brian's brother Ron. This was a short-sighted move even then, but it also showed that the Sutter on-ice ethic does not seamlessly translate behind the bench.

So now here's Calgary, with unfettered trust in Darryl's regime, at the price of some quite odd cap management decisions both last season and this. Hiring Brent to coach after last summer's ruse of an exit from New Jersey added another layer. Calling up Darryl's son Brett, a 2005 6th-round pick, as an emergency fourth-liner should be harmless enough, but still. The combination reminds me why organizations have policies about such things: Even with the best of intentions and the firmest determination not to let family bias your decisions, mixing them together creates sticky situations for everyone, not the least of which is the thick implication of nepotism in the air.

It's a problem you could easily avoid by just not going there, but that's not Darryl's way. So it will be interesting to see how it ends in Calgary, particularly if the Flames miss the postseason.

There are reasons to wonder about Brent as coach that just add to the mixed record of his brother the GM. Brett for his part has a very minor role in this -- it's not like a 4th-liner/PK guy has much of a range in which to disappoint -- but his presence, you can be sure, will be on the fan List of Grievances cheat sheet when they're ready to get out their torches to end the Sutter regime.

This and That

  • The 3D telecast of last night's Rangers-Islanders game got the predictable fluffy reviews. Wonder if the reviews would be different had the Rangers not curb-stomped the Isles 5-0.
  • On the topic of Flames management: One decision Darryl Sutter made last summer was to (over)invest in his blueline by acquiring Jay Bouwmeester. JayBo is playing good D, but with just 2 goals and 24 assists is he delivering everything needed from that salary slot? New site manager Hayley tackles that topic in depth over at Matchsticks & Gasoline.
  • Tonight and Saturday complete a weird schedule quirk in which the Islanders play seven Western Conference opponents this month. Tonight the Isles can play the role of spoiler. Saturday will be an epic lottery battle with Columbus.
  • I'm a believer in rotating your goalies on back-to-backs. In the aggregate stats show it produces better results, and it's frankly better for health, particularly when the Isles have three games in four nights. That said, no goalie this side of Columbus knows the Flames better than Dwayne Roloson. After he stood on his head despite allowing five goals last night, do you start him again or give this start to Martin Biron?
  • AHL Shuffle: A well-updated story stream on all of the AHL relocation news and rumors is up at the SB Nation hockey hub. Worth keeping an eye on.
  • After all these years, Eric Nystrom's first game at the Coliseum. He will have greeters.
  • This matchup, even if the Isles win, is really an example of how superior the West is right now. The Isles were until recently bubble-worthy in the East, while the Flames -- 15 points better despite a tougher schedule -- are sitting perilously in ninth in the West.

Prediction: I watch Eric Nystrom and dream of him in Islanders clothing. Is that so wrong?