Staple: Despite missing stars, Islanders headed in right direction
Arthur StapleArthur Staple
Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school
Scott Gordon summed up one of the main differences between the Rangers and Islanders yesterday:
"Obviously, we don't have a Marian Gaborik out there who can create a scoring chance every time," Gordon said.
But the Islanders have learned to live without stars, especially when it's the Rangers facing them. The Rangers aren't exactly the star-studded roster they once were - Gaborik and Henrik Lundqvist are their studs these days, not a mismatched collection of marquee names - but somehow, this rivalry seems to tilt toward the team with the lesser names and the lower chances of winning.
You could look it up - it started with J.P. Parise in 1975, went through to John Davidson and the Rangers in 1979, then skipped about 15 years when the chalk teams dominated: The Islanders won their Cups and always drove through Manhattan to do it, then the Rangers of the early 1990s returned the favor.
But lately, when the difference between these two fringe playoff teams hasn't been much, the difference is usually that the team that's in the worse shape has the better game.
It's still early, of course. The Rangers' 6-3 win in Buffalo on Saturday didn't mask their deficiencies in their own zone, and those were very much on display Monday - Michael Del Zotto had two giveaways that led to goals and John Tortorella's stated desire to have his defensemen up in the play can and will lead to good chances on Lundqvist.
The Islanders gave up some chances, as they will simply because they don't have the talent to maintain pressure. They stood around on the penalty kill, a problem that's plagued them and their low-rated penalty killing since Gordon got here, and the Rangers took the lead in the second period.
But Rick DiPietro, who was once the brightest star on Long Island but is now just a goaltender trying to work his way back to being a No. 1, stood tall in the third and the Islanders rallied with a couple of power-play goals of their own.
They came from Blake Comeau, who has plenty of scoring touch but not always a desire to play the all-around game Gordon demands, and P.A. Parenteau, who couldn't crack the Rangers' roster with any regularity last season but has been a first-line wing since he signed with the Islanders this summer.
Tavares, Okposo and Streit are three of the biggest keys to the Islanders. Without them, the Islanders have scored five late third-period goals in two games (one into an empty net), showing the sort of fortitude and consistency of effort every team needs, stars or no.
"We obviously would love to have those guys playing," said Josh Bailey, who had a goal and assist and is trying to grow into one of those important guys. "But we still need everyone going together to win."
It's a message that's perhaps easier for Gordon to send with the Isles' star players missing. Tavares should be back by the end of the week, but they won't see Okposo until December at the earliest and Streit until who-knows-when.
"It's a new year for us and we're moving forward," Bailey said.
With or without their stars.