If you read our Lighthouse Hockey preview of the previous game, then you
must hate yourself recall the discussion of the Blackhawks' loss of depth players during cap transition. One of those players is Viktor Stalberg, who is due to make his season debut with the Nashville Predators tonight.
The offense-challenged Predators have invested a lot of hope -- and money -- in Stalberg, committing four years and $12 million to him over the summer. (This, this is why Cup winners have trouble retaining depth players.) But his signing was symptomatic of a roster that has a lot of non-top-line forwards, requiring an offense by committee.
The Predators have scored all of six goals in four games so far this season, though it should be noted they're averaging four more shots per game than the Islanders after the Islanders put up only 19 shots Friday night in Chicago.
On that note, the Islanders' start sounds promising so far: 2-1-1, with a close loss to the defending champion Blackhawks their only regulation loss. But they have had such decent mini-starts before: 4-2-1 last January before struggles set in (and before a late season surge to the playoffs); 3-1 in 2011-12 before going winless in their next six; and 4-2-1 in 2010-11 before an epic losing streak cost Scott Gordon his job.
All of which is to say the Isles have some points banked in the standings, but coach Jack Capuano's frustration last night reflected the fact they've yet to truly play their game, even in a 6-1 rout of the Coyotes.
UPDATE: To that end, Capuano has made some changes for tonight: Brock Nelson returns to the lineup in place of Pierre-Marc Bouchard, while Matt Donovan sits for Matt Carkner.
Now, I'm not in the business of divining grand truths about who is awful and who needs to be scratched and which men to fire after four games -- I leave that to the Twitterverse and the most vocal online parrots, who were born with such innate powers. (Previously, P.A. Parenteau was pegged as a worthless Ranger in his first month with the Islanders, Michael Grabner just some waiver castoff from the Panthers.)
Capuano wouldn't be here for this, his 200th game behind the bench, if the club didn't believe he can help them avoid a similar early swoon. But it all bears monitoring in this small-sample portion of the season, where lines and chemistry are still being worked out, new players are still adjusting to new environments, and OT/shootouts and luck (but I repeat myself) can color how things look.
While Predators coach Barry Trotz might call the Isles "one of the best teams" his team has seen so far, the Isles have much to prove to show they will continue last season's good vibes. This begins a string of winnable games against beatable opponents, with a homestand to follow with the Sabres, Oilers and Hurricanes ahead next week.
These teams met twice in the preseason, though neither meeting was anything like full squad vs. full squad. So their exchange of one-sided victories doesn't tell us much; nor does, sadly, the Islanders putting five goals past Pekka Rinne in 40 minutes during their preseason victory.
Can the Isles take advantage of a slumping team in a building where the franchise has historically struggled (they've lost five straight in Nashville)? Can they put in their first 60-minute effort of the season? If they are going to justify raised expectations for the team, they'll need to.
If you're the FIGging sort (First Islanders Goal), you can leave your FIG picks right here.