The Montreal Canadiens are in first place in the East. ... I'll just let that sink in for you for a while.
They got there by doing a good deed: Stealing a win over the Rangers in regulation the other night. They've now won five in a row, they're pumping in goals at 5-on-5, they're outshooting opponents and suppressing shots overall (plus, they have a good goalie), and their underlying possession numbers are comfortably in the top half of the league.
With a great first third of this shortened season already in the books, it would already take an awful 32 games for them to miss the playoffs. Tonight the Islanders have their first of three chances to help.
Islanders (6-9-1, 12th/E) @ Canadiens (11-4-1, 1st/E)
7:30 p.m. | MSG+2 (twice the plus!) | Audio: NHL - WRHU
[beer or telco or something] Cent
Hey Who Said You Could Use "Habs"?: Habs Eyes on the Prize
Interesting note from the Hockey Club from Montreal's win at the Garden: P.K. Subban received the lowest ice time among Montreal blueliners. Michel Therrien is a hard-ass, and all the buttons he's pushed so far have turned out fine. But shorting their best defenseman is an act that bears watching.
The Canadiens feature some good young players, including Dane Lars Eller (the ceterpiece of the Jaroslave Halak sell-high trade) and of course Alex Galchenyuk, whom Montreal drafted last summer because Garth Snow doesn't care enough about winning to win the draft lottery. (Or something like that.)
Given the number of "think the Isles can land Subban?" comments we received over the summer, I doubt I need to point out how good he is.
From the Islanders side, expect a similar lineup based on their feeling that Tuesday's close loss to Ottawa in which they outshot the Sens heavily was an appropriate rebound from the disaster against the Flyers. But we'll update if changes come out of the morning skate.
Of greater interest to fans is probably Arthur Staple's piece in Newsday talking to Snow about the possibility of "rash" or "drastic" changes. No surprise, Snow says they won't panic. (The story was, it seems, filed before news of Lindy Ruff's firing.) A few excerpts:
"We're not going to mortgage our future to make a quick fix. That's not our plan."
"The group we have [on the Islanders] has won games this year and looked good doing it at times," Snow said. "If we call someone up, it'll be based on what we need at that position at a given time."
"We think this team can win," Snow said, "because we've all seen how well we can play."
There's more in Staples story, but that's a taste to get you talking. Though many fans are, I'm not worried about panic moves and callups; the rebuild is the rebuild, no need to spoil it after sticking it out this long. But can this team win more often than not? Outside of John Tavares and the powerplay saving the day? They haven't show it yet, and they don't have the goaltending to cover their warts.
Leave your First Islanders Goal picks in this thread. If you're new to the game, it's never too late to join, it's pretty simple and an easy way to cheaply feel good about yourself without having to buy a bunch of scratch-offs.