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Islanders Gameday: Finish the Rangers

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Nyr-r_medium               Isles-w_medium
New York Rangers (
33-32-10, 10th) at New York Islanders (30-34-10, 12th)
7 p.m. EDT | MSG, MSG+, radio
Nassau [
gloriously unsponsored] Veterans Memorial Coliseum
Orphanages:
Blueshirt Banter (SBN) | Scotty Hockey

The Rangers aren't making the playoffs. We know this, and most Smurfs fans know this (and many likely welcome it, given the season they've had and the faint possibility it will force change). But I mean, they at least still have a chance, since the East's Capitals' mince meat bubble teams they are chasing are so comically inconsistent. 8th-seed Boston lost last night, wasting a chance to tie Philadelphia and Montreal at 82 points. So naturally Atlanta, with a chance to climb even with the Bruins, coughed up a golden chance against Carolina. That's just how it's going.

So with that outside chance in mind, the Islanders have a chance to deal another near-fatal blow to their well-compensated rivals (and clinch the season series). For tonight and Thursday vs. the Flyers, the games still have purpose.

After the jump:

  • Gordon's quiet March trial of a Tambellini/Tavares/Moulson line
  • What we've learned about Andrew MacDonald

Roster Bits

The Rangers will be without Sean Avery (breaks my heart) and Ryan Callahan (now he's actually fun to watch), and pathetically that seriously damages their ability to play with energy and consistent forecheck. Brian Boyle is also out, but he's also Brian Boyle.

Matt Gilroy is going to be healthy scratched for the second straight game, while Wade Redden remains as non-scratched as ever.

Here's something that will shock you: Marian Gaborik has been ineffective lately -- I know, right?! Honestly, I think columnists too often are unaware of how the shortcuts taken to play through an injury can make you look lazy, and Gaborik is very likely fighting through the injuries he had before and during the Olympics. But then again, it's Gaborik, so he should be used to taking flak for his groin injuries undermining his game. Wouldn't it be something if this were Gabby's healthiest year on Broadway?

 

A-Mac Returns

As for the Islanders, well we're getting Andrew MacDonald back just four weeks after his foot broke. We're learning something about A-Mac here, and it's either: (a) The guy is crazy; (b) The guy doesn't want the team to forget about the strides he's made; or (c) He really is one of those team guys who wants to make a difference as much as possible.

What a company guy, this guy. He's thinking not just of the Islanders facing their rivals but also of Bridgeport's playoff run. And he wants to be in form, as he told Katie Strang [$5 please]:

"You don't want your season to end not playing the last six weeks or so," MacDonald said. "It's important to get some games in here at the end of the year."

Also, as if the four-year cap-friendly contract extension they gave him didn't betray their confidence in A-Mac, Scott Gordon reiterated that:

"He reads the play well, he understands the game well. It's the same with [Hillen] - they're cerebral players."

Cerebral players you need, at an affordable rate, to support your blueline foundation of Mark Streit and Anton Volchenkov. (Hey, let me dream.)

Anyway, I'm assuming MacDonald isn't rushing back, and his return is a big help to ease the load on Streit, Hillen and Freddy Meyer. He'll surely have some rust, but he sounds amped up and smart enough to step up against the Rangers.

 

Jeff Tambellini's Quietly Sudden Audition

So ... based on the lines from practice, we're going on three games with Jeff Tambellini not only being in the lineup but getting significant time on the left wing of John Tavares and Blake Comeau. Before this combo, Comeau was matching the best hockey of his career; Tavares was experiencing a modest late-season rebound. The Isles have firmly established that Matt Moulson and Tavares make sweet music together (and Moulson makes fine music on his own), so it doesn't bother me to see Scott Gordon trying some other combos. But after all this time keeping Tambellini in cold storage with occasional fourth-line cameos, I never expected Gordon to bring him back out to put him on that line.

Tamby/JT/Comeau spent most of the Columbus game facing R.J. Umberger with Jakub Voracek and Derrick Brassard -- theoretically top line vs. top line, though Columbus is not the best measure for a "top line test," and in truth Matt Moulson and Kyle Okposo are this team's clear even-strength leading scorers. In the Calgary game, at home, Gordon got JT-lite/JT/Comeau out there against a variety of lines, including the Flames' fourth line -- which was sadly Calgary's best.

It's too early to get a firm read on that line -- before you say "no points," remember that half of Tavares' points come on the powerplay -- but they at least have not been outplayed at even strength the last couple of games. I'm frankly entertained to see them together; at this time of the season, lab experiments like this are fun. Exactly what Gordon (or Garth Snow's?) end-game is with the move, I do not know, as I would have figured the time to evaluate Tambellini -- once and for all? -- in a top-six role would have come over the winter.

I fully expect the result to be same as it ever was, but Tambellini's time with the Isles has been filled with stops and starts that were not all of his own making. Before they cut bait, if they want his last chance to be on a line with the phenom and a winger who's been playing good hockey of late, that's fine with me. Why not.

*  *  *

Prediction: Tortorella yells at Larry Brooks. Gordon furrows at Rob Carlin. Fischler mentions how much the Rangers miss their Faustian glamor boy Avery.

*  *  *

Not only but also: Michael Fornabaio's weekly Bridgeport chat is today at 1:30. The race is thickening.

*  *  *

And Speaking of the Maven: You may have seen that Stan Fischler and Chico Resch combined on a book, "Who's Better? Rangers, Devils, Islanders or Flyers?" in which they debate the best players and such from all four franchises. (Query: Is it even a debate?!) Now I can smell a setup when one's around, so I'm suspicious of the treatment the Isles might receive in the book. But both of the authors were around for the Isles' best days -- in fact, when I became an Islanders fan, both were still associated with the team -- so I'd still probably meet them if I could.

On that note, both will speak about and sign the book this Thursday, April 1, at 7 p.m. at Book Revue in Huntington Village, which calls itself Long Island's largest independent bookstore. I like Isles history and I like independent bookstores, so that's good enough for me.