Congratulations! You've made it to the stretch of the season where we really reach to find meaning. Tonight's combatants are out of the playoffs: One's been clearly so for months, the other -- despite little separation -- has been clearly so to everyone except Lemaire-loving media. Which isn't to take away from the Devils' impressive second half, nor Lemaire's entertaining media scrum presence, but still: It was always too little, too late for New Jersey in 2011.
So we resort to things like, "Maybe Tavares will hit 30" and "Maybe Parise will play and test the knee," and "Maybe the loser gets a better lottery slot." It's not the best context for story lines and meaning, but it's something. After the jump, our reasons for watching tonight.
Perhaps you've heard, the Islanders blueline is missing a body or six. So up come Dylan Reese and Mark Katic to replace injured Milan Jurcina and Bruno Gervais, and join fellow 2010-11 AHLers Ty Wishart and Travis Hamonic. Suddenly, Jack Hillen is second in seniority on the blueline. I am absolutely fascinated by how the D pairings are going to work out with that motley mix.
In goal, does Al Montoya get the start to celebrate the new contract and after DiPietro's rough start against the Flyers? I'd think so, but I ain't boss, and I ain't judge and jury either. There is this quote from Capuano though, which is, well, pertinent even if you want to see the Cuban:
"With Ricky, I don't care about his wins or losses right now, his goals-against average or his save percentage," interim coach Jack Capuano said. "I just want him to play and get the rust off."
For the Devils, Anton Volchenkov and Colin White will be out (what, that's all? Amateurs, Dude.), and a decision on whether this is the night Zach Parise returns will be shared today. [UPDATE: He will not return tonight.] Parise says getting back into some games has nothing to do with his pending free agency, so you can totally read that as a sign he'll be jumping the pond come July. (Since I can't prevent those thoughts, I shall hereby mock them.)
The Devils were Jack Capuano's first win back when both teams were awful. Then they were a 5-1 scalp when both teams were thinking about turning the corner in December. (Ha. Looking back in the archives for that, I rediscovered the parody of Brooks-ian pontificating and kicking-while-down which -- pardon my vanity -- is my favorite thing I've produced this season.)
Since then in this Atlantic series it's been all Devils, though the last two of three Islanders losses came via extra time.
I guess the narrative says a recent 1-4-1 slump killed the Devils' playoff chances, but in reality the odds finally caught up with them -- or rather October, November and December killed their chances. Though they're just one slot above the Isles in the leaguewide standings, that's three points ahead of the NYI and three points behind Atlanta with a game in hand on each.
If you missed updates from yesterday's post on Doug Weight, the official site has much more from him on his injury and retirement thoughts. (I happen to agree that even though the writing is on the wall for us fans and observers, he's earned the right to make that life decision at his own time.) If you missed yesterday's post on Al Montoya, the official site has much more from him on his contract extension, including something we've heard a lot from Garth Snow's astute reclamation projects:
"For me, this was an easy decision," Montoya continued. "It was the team that gave me a chance, which wanted me to come back. That said a lot to me. This is where I want to be."
Not to overestimate Montoya's thin leverage even as a pending UFA, but this sort of thing is important for a franchise that's steadily rebuilding its credibility among fans and free agents.
Last Meeting with the Devil(s): Striped Clowns on Parade
Last meeting, the Islanders didn't do their job all that well yet made it to OT. Worse, the refs really didn't do their job all that well, which led to some post-game kerfuffle. Upon further review, the third period was downright comical, punctuated with a misconduct that removed Frans Nielsen for the remainder of regulation and OT. Jack Capuano complained of getting no respect afterward, and that's fine; that's one theory. (Another theory: That complaining about the refs gets you the same treatment in the next game. Whatever. As with fighting, sometimes you need to make your point rather than turn the other cheek, and it was Capuano's first use of a "can't bite my tongue about that" card as Isles coach.)
I've no explanation for why the refs worked so poorly, other than the theoretical nameplates the league has obscured for the last decade by placing generic numbers on the back of their sweaters. (Hint: If they still used nameplates, they'd read AUGER and LEE.) As with religion, politics and personal relationships, human motives turn on a variety of reasons and insecurities, so I'm not going to pretend to know what drove those striped men's clown car that night.
Regardless, with tonight serving no purpose other than entertainment, milestone chasing, and modest evaluative mode, hopefully the officials don't mistake three zones for three rings.
Leave your FIG (First Islanders Goal) picks in this FanShot here. Only six picks left to go!
The Calder Race Will Only Get More Annoying
This is the sort of thinking that will make you scream if you care about the Calder Trophy. How Michael Grabner -- at +16 on a 26th-place team with five shorthanded goals, 25 EV goals and virtually no powerplay time to speak of -- is that far down the list leaves one speechless.
I love that Logan Couture is praised for "game-winning" goals for a team that has 44 wins (Grabner's team has 29.) But then that is why I don't pay close attention to hardware races regardless of whether an Islander is tangentially involved. The Islanders budget is better off if Grabner remains our little secret, mmkay?
Meanwhile, in Diapers...
Last night, Kiril Kabanov's Lewiston club took a 2-1 series lead with a 4-2 win.
Casey Cizikas' Mississauga club completed their 4-0 sweep of Belleville, though Cizikas is still out with his hand injury. Here's hoping the rest between rounds sets him up to return in round 2.