Finally, a bit of good news for the Islanders' ragtag defense: Andrew MacDonald returns for tonight's visit from the Rangers.
MacDonald, 23, was in the midst of a breakout season - not exactly a Norris Trophy contender, but breakout where the Isles are concerned - and had just signed a four-year, $2.2-million contract extension when he broke a foot blocking a shot in the first game back from the Olympic break on March 2.
There was a chance he wouldn't be back this season, with a four-to-six-week prognosis for recovery, but Tuesday is the four-week mark, and he's ready to step back in. "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."
MacDonald's return is one small addition for a defensive corps that has only been subtracting since MacDonald went down. Andy Sutton (traded), Dustin Kohn (concussion) and Bruno Gervais (groin) are out, and on Saturday in Columbus, the Isles dressed only two defensemen (Mark Streit and Freddy Meyer) who were on the roster to start the season.
The Islanders returned 20-year-old Anton Klementyev to Bridgeport Monday. With seven games left and the Islanders eight points from a playoff spot, it's more important to develop up-and-comers such as MacDonald and Jack Hillen than busting it for a playoff berth.
"It's really from a hockey-sense standpoint," Scott Gordon said of the reason for MacDonald's improvement. "He reads the play well, he understands the game well. It's the same with [Hillen] - they're cerebral players. They're going to make mistakes, don't get me wrong, but the number goes down because they pick things up so fast."
MacDonald did take notice of which game was coming up as he worked to get back. "It kind of just happened that way, but that doesn't mean I wasn't aware this game was coming up," he said. "It's for bragging rights and it's a big deal around here."
With the Rangers still in the playoff hunt, could be for more than bragging rights. Having MacDonald back could counter some of the Rangers' forechecking speed, which they used to overwhelm the Islanders in a 5-0 rout last Wednesday.