The Florida Panthers, on their second coach of the season and just two points behind the New York Islanders, have done the Isles no favors in Long Island's Quixotic effort to avoid becoming this season's ugliest Metropolitan duckling.
In 10 games against Metro opponents this season, the Panthers have lost four in regulation and dropped three more in overtime or shootouts (including this week's OT loss in New Jersey). Of their three victories over Metro teams, only two were accomplished without conceding regulation points to those who seek to do the Isles harm.
Tonight is the first of three meetings between the Isles and Panthers, so in theory it's the Isles' turn to get in on the eating where the eating is good. Then again: Standings. Florida has two games in hand on the Isles and is only two points behind, even with the Isles' current resuscitation.
The Islanders are going for their eighth consecutive road win, which would tie a franchise record set in the glory years, so...aww, jinx, probably.
Tonight's opponent is not the easy mark you might expect. If you look at shot differentials and such, you can see play at 5-on-5 (score close or otherwise) isn't the Panthers' issue, though their save percentage is surprisingly Islanders-esque for a team with Tim Thomas on it. Basically, when Thomas is playing and healthy, they get competent goaltending (.916), and when he's not it's sub-.900 ugliness.
Oh, speaking of Thomas...
The key news for tonight's lineup, and the only change, is that Travis Hamonic is out with an "upper body" injury. He left the Dallas game midway through with what at one point was called "dehydration" but at this point might as well be "none of your damned business."
That means Matt Carkner is in, most likely to resume his third pairing with Matt Donovan. More critically, it means Calvin de Haan has a new partner, and it sounds like that will be Thomas Hickey. If those two don't log the most minutes tonight, then Moby was wight all along.
As proof that hockey is mean and tough to predict and four games doesn't even get you a dinette set, the Islanders' four-game win streak has included a 4-0 run by Kevin Poulin, who has objectively played quite well during at least half of it and has won five in a row himself.
At the other end of the ice, ex-Islander Tim Thomas is in net. Thomas was the Isles' "break bunker, then the other bunker, then the booby trap and the security alarm in case of apocalyptic emergency" goalie on last year's playoff squad -- acquired purely for cap insurance in case the Islanders missed the playoffs and decided to sell all parts. Ironically, he's the best goalie the Islanders have owned in 15 or more years, and they didn't pay him a dime and won't be paying him through 2029.
Damn the luck.
Familiar friend Brad Boyes -- who we can all probably agree, is at least not Thomas Vanek -- leads the Panthers with 12 goals. Rookie Aleksander "I'm actually Finnish" Barkov leads them with 22 points.
Finally, the Panthers will host the 2015 Draft (amid a healthy dose of local arena politics), and that announcement comes after big news that they are supposedly freed to spend to the cap in 2014. With Dale Tallon, that could be a mixed blessing.
Lighthouse Hockey FIG Picks
If you wish to predict who scores the First Islanders Goal, you shall officially do so over here.
The leaderboard (those with 15 or more) looks like this:
31 - martylnd
18 - Ukiddinme
17 - Isle in Dixie
17 - zack779
16 - DoctorOsty
16 - tm
15 - Torgo
...full standings are here, where in a domestic rivalry you can see Mike in MI handily beating his wife by eight points. Wait, that didn't come out right. (Or, in honor of Archer's return...phrasing!)
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