UPDATE: It's official. Goaltender Mikko Koskinen has been assigned to KalPa of the Finnish league. UPDATE 2: Multiple reports say Kyle Okposo is your healthy scratch.
Holy cow, the Rangers have won six in a row. That's not good news. Only one of those wins was via shootout, too. So are they dominating things?
No. Not exactly. The behind-the-scoreboard guys at Blueshirt Banter note their 5-on-5 play and call the Smurfs' current winning ways as "smoke and mirrors" and -- as always -- good goaltending. You might say, "So there's hope," but really there's always hope entering every NHL game and especially in rivalry games like this one.
In contrast to their foes from Short Island, the Islanders have been slightly undermined by the percentages, true. But mostly they've failed to put together complete nights that would make you think the percentages owe them a favor.
I want a win tonight as much as any fan, but it's somewhat maddening if it takes the Smurfs or home ice to bring out something resembling a 60-minute effort, four functioning lines, and three functioning defensive pairs.
Goalies: Evgeni Nabokov is in net, with Al Montoya backing up. Occam's Razor would suggest managing three goaltenders is hard with no fool-proof methodology, but I know there is a great mass of conspiracists who think Garth Snow is forcing Nabokov to get starts except when he's forcing DiPietro to get starts except when DiPietro is in the pressbox except when he's being forced to be the backup except when he's not.
I'll be sure to keep an eye on that sordid saga and ignore the 5-on-5 hockey and 2.07 goals scored per game that has brought the Islanders to 4-7-3.
Nino, Nino, No Okposo
Nino Niederreiter is expected back in the lineup, his conditioning stint in Bridgeport having concluded, but Jack Capuano is being coy about who is the odd man out. If it's Blake Comeau again, there's a positional argument for that but it's sure going to look like Comeau is the stepchild since he's the only forward to be healthy scratched this season. In the world of "passengers," Comeau has had plenty of company.
[UPDATE: Strang and Staple both say Kyle Okposo is the scratch. And no, "the scratch" is not a compliment or youthful lingo for "the shiznit."]
Capuano in the Post:
"I will tell you that, as a player and as a coach, you don’t always sit a guy for his performance," said Capuano, speaking about finding a roster spot for Niederreiter. "Sometimes mentally, it’s good to see the game from a different view."
And in Newsday, this will be Brian Rolston's 1200th NHL game ... if he plays.
There was some fan tea leave reading during the minimal summer glimpses of Nino and Jack Capuano's post-rookie game comments that led fans to believe he was disappointed in Niederreiter's conditioning or prep. Those were thin straws grasped thanks to the limited scraps of info available over the summer. If there was anything to it, that's not the thinking right now:
"(Nino) really knew what he had to do to make the National Hockey League and be an impact player. He trained extremely hard this summer and unfortunately, during our camp this year, he had that injury. Before that, he was right on track to be a player that was going to help our hockey team."
A big part of that summer training was skating, so that's one thing I'll be looking at tonight. The other is if Nino makes the right reads and knows where to go, which might depend on the sanity of his linemates.
At minimum, I expect he'll be going to the net, which is something several Islanders lines could use a refresher course on.
Oh, speaking of that...
"The whole attitude is you're converging pucks, bodies and traffic at the net, so your whole game is towards the net. But in order to do it, you have to make people turn. We're trying to create an environment where we make them face their goalie as much as we can so that they can't defend facing up ice."
That should be plastered on the board in the Isles locker room.
Capuano wants his defense to be more engaged in the offense, and that would help, but as with life under Scott Gordon they have a few defensemen who don't appear capable of doing that without giving up the farm behind them.
And of course they can't even get to that "engaged" point if they can't smoothly get the puck out of their own zone. And they can't get the puck out of their own zone if the forwards don't provide options for-- ... ahhhh, hockey, it has so many variables that feed each other. We can go round and round and round, can we not?
From the Rangers side, John Tortorella is using Marian Gaborik precisely -- against weaker victims and all that -- to the tune of 9 goals so far. On the back end, while Marc Staal is still out, Dan Girardi has really shined in his place. Add the default of Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers have a lot going for them even when things are tough and underlying numbers aren't pretty.
But it's a rivalry game. Throw it all out the window. Last meeting (with Nabokov in net) was a close, one-goal affair before a John Tavares empty-netter. The Islanders outshot the Rangers 34-31, but that was with the benefit of plenty of powerplays (11 Isles PP shots, 8 NYR PP shots), which the Islanders haven't been earning lately.
The Islanders have exactly one win since that game -- against the Capitals, of all teams. So just drop the puck and we'll see which coach is ticked off 2.5 hours later.
Put your First (Only?) Islanders Goal picks in this thread over here.