Gone are the days of free-spending, free-wheeling NHL franchises. The dawn of the salary cap era has seen more balanced competition, even-handed star power and yes, parity. Gone also are the days of teams like the New York Rangers spending nearly $70 million to dress lineups that couldn't find their way to the playoffs. Instead we have seen the dawn of a new New York Rangers that can make the playoffs, but essentially accomplishes the same task, for a whopping $20 million less. Last night's game against the Islanders was a great example of how there really are two hockey teams in New York. Last night the better team shone brighter than they had in nearly the last decade of this rivalry.
Every aspect of last night's game speaks a tome about the disparity still around the league. Each team spends around the same with different results. Teams like Buffaslug and Carolina rack up the wins through hard work and comraderie, some win because of solid blue line work like Anaheim and others scrake by on bloated salary lines like the Rangers, a team I love to skewer. Last night the once-surprise Isles, on the heals of a six game losing streak, came out with underdog fire and exposed the weaknesses of poor spending. Granted Jagr clicked another 3 points onto his career total. Granted Brendan Shanahan scored on the Islanders, again. Granted Blair Betts, Marcel (the bad) Hossa stayed off the scoresheet while Lundqvist and his Swiss cheese acrobatics were the Isles saving grace. But the story was really about teamwork.
Where does one begin? Is it Miro's ability to slam one in, finally? Or was it Sillinger's scrappy play and quickness on the rebound? Could it be 5 guys with multi-point games? Or simply Shawn Bates' not playing that is acting as a breather for the average fan? I'm not sure. I'm not sure anyone is. Even the players themselves are uncertain as to their good fate versus the Rangers as of late.
After winning 5 in a row against the Rangers (dating back to last season), three games in the Garden in one season, and an unprecedented start to the season series this rivalry has the fire it deserves. "For whatever reason we seem to play really well against the Rangers this year," is what Sillinger had to say last night on the team's blog. "For whatever reason." Interesting choice of words for a team flip-flopping between good and bad, exciting to watch and cringe-inducingly bad, playoff-worthy competitors and median-level hasbeens. We all hope for the better of those choices. Now, only if the Islanders could figure out which of those choices they prefer.