Goodness Andrew MacDonald, what a year it's been. Twelve months ago he was in Bridgeport, earning "next in line" status but not getting another NHL sniff until November, called up when Brendan Witt attended to family matters. By February with 32 games under his belt he'd left an impression of consistent quality. And now, not even 10 months since he truly "arrived," his injury leaves a mark on the Islanders for the next 4 to 6 weeks.
This is not A-Mac's first tough break at the NHL level: He ended last season with a broken foot. But for the Islanders, there is a significant difference this time: Whereas last year's injury came right as Andy Sutton had been sold as scrap metal -- leaving the Islanders to rely on the likes of Dylan Reese, Dustin Kohn and Mark Flood -- this time the Islanders were already carrying eight men who make their living as NHL defensemen.
Jack Hillen, an impressive regular last season, steps into the void.
MacDonald has played most with Milan Jurcina this year, and Hillen in his two previous games paired with former Sound Tiger teammate MacDonald; so look for if and how Scott Gordon adjusts the pairings.
The Isles have played just two more games than the Panthers, but their games have featured a full 20 more goals. (Goal Difference: NYI - 23-19; FLA - 13-9). That doesn't really mean anything, but it's kinda cute, don't you think? We sure haven't lacked for goals in the Isles games we've watched this year.
The Panthers Defense: Stretched
Derek Zona, whom you might have read at Oilers blog
Orange Copper & Blue, is one of those guys taking on the scoring chance project this year, and he's tracking the Panthers. He's observed two things I want to note here: 1) The Panthers outplayed their opponent for their first four games -- before a disastrous meeting with Dallas; and 2) The Dmitry Kulikov - Bryan McCabe pairing has had some rough spots.
I'd add to this that Mike Weaver was a nice under-the-radar summer signing for the Panthers. Weaver's one of those guys who begins NHL life as a "depth defenseman" and makes the necessary realization of what niche he can carve to keep a steady NHL job. For Weaver that's been as a defensively sound, no-frills guy who can be a go-to guy for your penalty kill. But asking him to be your main shut-down guy next to Jason Garrison or Keaton Ellerby is a bit much.
So I'd venture that even with their injuries the Islanders are the better team here and have an opportunity to exploit the Panthers and sweep Florida for the first time since 2001. However, that sweep was the only time in history they've pulled it off, the Panthers have played well in 4 of 5, and they should be refocused after laying an egg at home against Dallas.
And not for nothing: The Lightning got back to their winning ways last night. The Isles of course squeaked out an OT win over Tampa Bay the other night, and these Panthers destroyed them 6-0 on opening night. Any given Sunday...
Bowtie Bill Torrey: The Architect
What more can Islanders fans say of Bill Torrey? Simply, he is living legend. If you're a younger fan, just know he built this franchise and is chiefly responsible for its greatest success. He might have done the same for Oakland, Calif., when they had an NHL team with an awesome '70s logo, but his owner there was a bit of a...uh, "character," and they soon parted ways (and that team moved to Cleveland, incidentally, where they had another awesome look).
So Torrey came to the expansion Islanders, began a slow and steady build through the draft, and hired one of the greatest coaches in sports (and the reason I'm an Isles fan), Al Arbour, to grow with them. The results are hanging throughout the rafters in the Coliseum.
Thanks to the kind of derelict ownership that's marked much of this franchise's history, Torrey was forced out in the early '90s. He thought he was retiring to Florida. The Miami Herald's On Frozen Pond beatwriter blog has a great summary of how "retirement" didn't last, and Torrey found himself building another expansion team, the Panthers.
Torrey will honored tonight as the Isles visit, with the two most important teams in his life each undertaking the kind of methodical reconstruction he initiated for both franchises at their founding. I hope he likes what he sees; the long-suffering fans of both franchises deserve a big payoff for time served. (That's right: Time served. Do you realize Panthers fans haven't seen the playoffs in ten years? Don't bash a market until you've walked in their shoes.)
So A-Mac is out, Hillen is in, and Scott Gordon said yesterday that Josh Bailey is a gametime decision. He can play, they just worry whether the wrong collision would create a setback on his hip pointer. It would be nice to see him back out there with Blake Comeau (who some of us theorize is banged up after taking lumps in three straight games).
Whether Bailey's back affects the center situation and everything else. The Doug Weight-Michael Grabner-Nino Niederreiter line has made for fun watching as a little secondary threat. You've got the old captain guiding the Youngest Islander Ever and the enigmatic but promising Panther-for-a-moment Grabner. Nino has two games left before Decision Time, by the way. Which way are you leaning? Regardless of personal preference, my money is on the Isles keeping him.
In goal, Gordon spoke of both goalies getting time in Florida, so I'm betting on Dwayne Roloson for tonight. But you never know.
First Goal: Pick 'em
Do not leave your picks here -- leave them in the game thread, unless you won't be there -- but there seems to be support for JP (VA chapter)'s suggestion of a first goal pool each game. The format is: Name,Time of Goal (time is the tiebreaker). We'll keep track during the season, and I'll figure out some kind of honor for the seasonlong winner. Just a fun thing to do here and nurture the community we have going here...
...strictly for entertainment purposes, of course. Gambling is illeeeeegal at Bushwood.