David M Singer
Nov 20, 2002
In a year that has seen the NHL promote speed and scoring, we have yet to see too many contests where emotion and passion are high on a playerís required list of things to bring to game time. This Saturday afternoon features this seasonís first Islanders-Rangers game, a rivalry that never fades, no matter what position either team is placed in the standings. Will these two teams shy away from the physical play and raw emotion that has taken over the series of past years? Even in this NHL, itís unlikely.
Nothing can be promised, of course, and every game doesnít live up to the hype, but Isles-Rangers games rarely disappoint. This season both teams are underachieving and currently sit in the last two spots in the Atlantic Division. Both teams need a boost, and this game could be the turning point in the winnerís season. Brawl or none, shootout or tight-d, this one will be played with high intensity and meaning.
Over the past two seasons each team has picked up five wins. Last season we were also treated to some great crash and bang games featuring seven fights, with the highlight being Eric Cairns taking a win over Sandy McCarthy at center ice in the Garden, a fight hyped-up long before the game. Alexei Yashin was even involved in the fisticuffs (along with some highlight-reel goals). The 2000-2001 campaign was slightly tamer. Which kind of game will we see this year? With the rosters of each squad, itís more likely the banging type.
Missing from the action this year will be Theo Fleury. Now with the Blackhawks organization (not currently playing, as he is treating his substance abuse problems), the absence of Fleury will be missed. Although a catalyst and a great pest, the Rangers have Matt Barnaby to fill that role. The void is mainly in the goals department as Fleury scored some big goals in this series.
Another missing man will be Krzysztof Oliwa, who will be sitting the last game of his five-game suspension.
Toughness will still be represented for the Blueshirts. Sandy McCarthy, Matt Barnaby and Dale Purinton will all likely dress. The Islanders have their own crew represented by Eric Cairns, Jason Wiemer, Aaron Asham and Steve Webb. Ray Schultz is a possibility, and the Islanders may even call up Eric Godard depending on the health of the rest of the lineup and the outcome of this weekís games. Its games like these that bring out the unlikely combatants, so donít rule out anyone, and keep your eyes towards the ice.
What will happen if the fans get a good game? If things go well we see a combination of speed, scoring and emotion. Lots of goals, lots of hits and some gloves on the ice. The media, always thinking what the paying fan likes (note: sarcasm), has been pretty critical of fighting recently and this game could spark some more anti-pugilist articles.
I can see the comments already about the lack of penalties called, as though weíve all herded to MSG to watch 60 minutes of special teams. How dare Barnaby not scoot around and keep up with the ďflowĒ of the game? After all, he sometimes plays with Pavel Bure, he should be skating like him by now; but heís not, and heís coming back fast to defend, and in hard on the forecheck, finishing all his hits. Two minutes for having too much energy. What about Webb? He went out there throwing hard shoulder checks! Five minute major for knocking another player off his skates. McCarthy might score a goal, but many donít believe thereís a place for a guy like him in the game. Letís give that one to Petr Nedved on the scoresheet or Bryan Trottier might start wanting to put Sandy Mac out there more often. Can you imagine that? Uh-oh! Here comes Cairns and he looks like heís willing to do whatever it takes to win. Match penalty and game misconduct for seeming to care.
If itís an entertaining game, read that first and then go pick up your local paper. Itíll lessen your chances of wanting to burn the paper, wipe it somewhere or hunt down the writer. While you have some media loving a good fight, and others not stating their own opinions, but admitting fans seem to love it, many have taken their own jabs at the NHL this year, calling for the removal of fighting from the game. Watch the season series between these two teams. Keep your eyes on the players and listen to the fans. Note the goals, note the fights. See everything that can come from a game that means something to everyone in the arena.
Hereís to hoping...
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