Islanders Gameday: Suddenly not so sick in Carolina

Did you not realize Kyle Okposo was superhuman? 'Bout time you just accept it, son. Okposo and Blake Comeau, both sick earlier this week (KO diagnosed with H1N1), are now back with the team and might even play tonight.

I guess the chance to pounce on a struggling opponent has healing powers. It's the converse of the old "Philadelphia Flu" of the '70s: The Carolina Wonderdrug.

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New York Islanders (6-6-6, 5th/Atl) at Carolina Hurricanes (1-12-3, 5th/SE)
7 p.m. EST  |  The [Something to do with Usury] Center  |  MSG+, audio
Natural Disaster Watchers: Canes Country | R&B Hockey

There's the proverbial risk in looking at struggling opponents as easy "W's," of course. In fact, it's no stretch to figure the Hurricanes looked at the then-winless Islanders as an easy must-win back in October, when the Hurricanes' current 13-game winless streak was only at three. That night the Isles picked up their first "win" (shootout), on their way to the current devilish record. After one more shootout loss (to another "gimme," Minnesota), the Canes have now lost seven in a row outright.

The reasons for their struggles are almost too numerous to count (injury, age, imbalance, diminishing offense), but Canes Country today has a very nice look at why it will be hard for GM Jim Rutherford to do anything about it: They're up against the cap something fierce.

Something Wicked in this Net Comes

On the ice, you can start with the fact Rod Brind'Amour is old, Eric Staal is hurt, and Cam Ward had his thigh cut open by Rich Nash's skate. But the symbol of their fate to me is this: Manny Legace is Rutherford's emergency goalie of choice. Why Michael Leighton has collected dust under Paul Maurice, I don't know (possible answer: He's not so much real good-like), but if the franchise has zero faith in him, it's a wonder they kept him around when ... well, injuries happen.

I've seen more than I care to admit of Legace thanks to his time with the Blues. When in form, with good team support, he can surprise you. But you also get a dose of the goalie headcase-itis, and it was this tendency that accelerated his demise and eventual mid-season waiving by the Blues last year. Nothing in the last year tells you the Good Legace is due back on this earth anytime soon, as his form even when making a save sometimes looks like this. But stranger things have happened. A career hanging by a thread can focus a man.

Sub-par goalies, devastating injuries, battered coach trying to end losing spells ... why, it sounds like the 2008-09 New York Islanders! So much so, I almost get a nostalgic tear in my eye. But this must be special misery for Canes fans; while we went into last season with a pretty good idea a storm was about to hit the Islanders, Canes fans are coming off a big playoff run that included conquering Marty and Evil Lou of Newark, and knocking off the conference champs. That's a hard fall.

Game Plan

Back in the '90s, a hard-working, under-skilled team evened things up by trapping and hooking and generally sucking the Hall of Famer Lou Life out of the game. Today, for obvious reasons, that doesn't work. So what's the key to the Islanders keeping their head above water this year? I'm convinced it's the usual hard work, and hustle, and constant pressure -- but for the dual purpose of knocking the other team off its game and drawing powerplays.

The powerplay hasn't been exactly lethal (19%), and the team isn't blowing anyone out (except Buffalo, once), and they're being outshot 33.4-30.9 per game, but the Isles are doing enough to derail teams, keep it close and inch out a win or a trip to OT. The team is in the bottom 10 (the good bottom) in penalties committed per game, which is big because they're only 24th in PP opportunities. They're now at .88 in 5-on-5 GF/GA, better than at any point last season.

Again, it's a thin margin of error they're working with, but thus far the above factors mixed with better goaltending have made this team's games fun to watch, while giving us tantalizing glimpses of the future.

So tonight: More of the same, please, and a win shall be yours. If Okposo is indeed back in (at what strength?), that alters the powerplay a bit and makes Doug Weight's loss slightly less painful. Though Wednesday, it was nice to be reminded of what Trent Hunter's presence on the PP unit can do when he has time to shoot.

With back-to-backs this weekend, tonight is the game the Isles have to have to keep our fan-imposed goal of .500 on this road trip in order. After a pause at home in the middle of this seven-game run away from home, the trip doesn't get any easier. But yeah, just play the game and win and do nice things 'n stuff. Okay? Cool.

Prediction: Legace's body language after at least one goal sends Canes fans reaching for their TUMS.

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