[**Note: This post does double-duty as the afternoon's game thread.]
Some teams take the Islanders lightly, but the Colorado Avalanche shouldn't be one of them: They're among a bundle of decent Western Conference teams for whom there simply aren't enough playoff spots. Also, in a rare interconference rematch, they have the memory of a 5-2 loss to the Isles in October. Of course, that game featured Scott Gordon behind the bench, Dwayne Roloson in goal, James Wisniewski on D, plus a healthy Frans Nielsen, Mark Eaton, Mike Mottau and Doug Weight. And the Avs had a healthy Chris Stewart and Cody McLeod, plus one Scott Hannan and no Thomas Fleischmann.
Things are a bit different now. Milan Jurcina probably won't be scoring two goals.
Islanders (12-20-6, 14th/E) @ Colorado (21-15-5, 7th/W)
[syrupy concoction of some sort] Center
3 p.m. EST | MSG+, audio - WRHU 88.7
Note for out-of-market: Game also streamed on Yahoo
Where Brendan Witt still plays, wearing #52: Mile High Hockey
In goal, with road back-to-backs today and tomorrow, 20-year-old rookie Kevin Poulin draws the first start of his NHL career. As Eric Hornick points out, he's the youngest Islanders starter since Rick DiPietro in 2001 -- but not younger than Eric Fichaud, Mark Fitzpatrick or Roberto Luongo when they made their debuts. Hornick also notes that Poulin still has logged more days on this odd planet than teammates John Tavares and Travis Hamonic.
I know they're not the Rockies, but if the silly baseball team hadn't lifted that name from the proto-Devils, it would have been cool if the Nordiques had taken on the name of the team that gave Battlin' Billy Smith his one and only NHL goal:
Instead, the mountain range moniker gave way to the carnage that the mountain range and gravity combine to produce for unsuspecting pedestrians, skiers and the occasional stray pet. Hurricanes in the east, Lightning in the south, Avalanche in the west ... sometimes it's best just to be an islander.
Goalies, Goalies, Crazy Goalies
As a few already pointed out, don't read anything deeper into DiPietro being sent home early other than the right decision on the groin injury that took him out of the game in Calgary. He wasn't going to start either of these games, so no point keeping him on the road rather than getting him back for treatment. As for his seemingly never-ending injury curse...that's between you and your maker.
Poulin, meanwhile, has to be the Islanders' most exciting goalie prospect right now. We know how good he was in the QMJHL, how Patrick Roy raved about him, and how he's been terrific in his first pro exposure at AHL Bridgeport. So hopefully he gives us an enticing peek at the future -- but best not get to high or low however his performance goes. He's not the goalie of today, but may very well be the goalie of tomorrow. Think about how Vancouver's long, steady incubation of Cory Schneider appears to be paying off.
At the other end, with a .904 save percentage Craig Anderson is having nothing like the outstanding year he had last season. The Avs actually get outshot by a little over half a shot per game and give up just a bit more goals per game than the Isles (3.17 to 3.13)
Well, not to be too discouraging, but it's a tough weekend we're looking at here. There's the motherload of injuries the Isles have faced all season, plus Frans Nielsen's likely continued absence, which is huge. Defensive-minded Islanders alum Jeremy Colliton was called up, but it's a tall order if they want him to shadow Paul Stastny or Matt Duchene in place of the Great Dane.
Then there's the blueline, whose story you know. Mark Streit (shoulder), Mark Eaton (Islanders hip 2007), Mike Mottau (Islanders hip 2007), Radek Martinek (wrist) means Jack Hillen, Bruno Gervais, Dylan Reese (healthy, healthy, healthy). The Avalanche powerplay is at 21.3% and their 5-on-5 GF/GA ratio is 1.18, sixth-best in the league. That's a lot of defensive assignments right there.
To me that means a great performance from Travis Hamonic, Andrew MacDonald and Jurcina is required -- all possible, but still -- as well as a pinch-me level first start from Poulin and some scoring from the powerplay that failed seven times in Edmonton (albeit, with some rough luck). Then hopefully there's something left in the tank for Sunday at Chicago, who wait idle at home after tying the Senators last night and winning the bonus breakaway drill.
All that said, you know why they play these games: Stuff happens. We see it in this league every night. Here's hoping we see it this afternoon.
Don't forget it's an early game today, and the First Islanders Goal pick pool is cut off once the puck drops.