Not to be outmuscled... - Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
As the losing streak verges on six, David Ullstrom and Thomas Hickey are scratched for Eric Boulton and Joe Finley.
The New York Islanders are scoring more goals than the Rangers, their powerplay and penalty kill are succeeding at higher rates (25.5%, 89.5%) than the Rangers (9.1%, 82.7%), they put on more shots per game than the Rangers, they take fewer penalties than the Rangers, and they've even been slightly better on faceoffs than the Rangers.
I mention this because counting stats, particularly after a dozen games, can be deceiving. (As just one "but really this" note, the Rangers are giving up considerably fewer shots on their PK than the Islanders are.)
As we know, their record is hardly better than the Rangers, and their 5-on-5 play and goaltending is not in the same ballpark. That poses quite the challenge for a team trying to break a five-game losing streak and keep its season, suddenly a quarter complete, in plausible fighting shape.
'Doesn't This Random Scattering of Lineup Changes Seem Desperately Random, Clarice?'
The significance of this game, and the general "lost but tried" feeling they had after the loss to the Hurricanes, would not in my eyes dictate the drop of talented players from the lineup in the name of size. But there you go: David Ullstrom and Thomas Hickey join Marty Reasoner as healthy scratches. Enter Eric Boulton, Joe Finley. Yeah.
Ullstrom apparently did something wrong in the last game, as it appears he was skipped for multiple shifts. He definitely lost his man on Christian Ehrhoff's goal in the loss to the Sabres, so maybe he did a few more things against the Hurricanes that didn't show up on the scoreboard but drew the coaching staff's rebuke. I'd still argue that overall, he has provided enough creativity and positive drive to play that I wouldn't sit his speed for this game.
I don't typically get up in arms about small lineup moves involving bottom-six and bottom-pair players. From internal dynamics to daily bumps and bruises, much goes on beyond our view as observers ranting about moves along the fringes. But it's hard to figure where they're going here, unless they're going to shorten the bench (as John Tortorella often does) and bury the fourth line (but why bury Martin and Cizikas?):
Moulson - Tavares - Boyes
Bailey - Nielsen - Okposo
Grabner - Aucoin - McDonald
Martin - Cizikas - Boulton
We'll see how it all plays out at game time, in situations and in time on ice. Arthur Staple reports Jack Capuano believes the Isles were outmuscled in the last meeting.
It's just hard to even see the traditional old-school rationale for Boulton here, as the Rangers are no longer a team that needs to bother infusing this rivalry with enforcer-like intimidation. (Not even enforcer-light: They don't have Sean Avery, Brandon Prust or Mike Rupp anymore to try stirring a distracting ruckus.)
Simply, if the Rangers play their game right, their odds of winning are inherently better. Just grind out games through disciplined structure and some inventive maneuvers by their multiple stars. The Isles will need special teams magic and a little fortune to reverse that.
Leave your First Islanders Goal picks over in this thread, ya hear.