[Tonight] will be a battle of the too coldest teams in the NHL. The Wild has lost six in a row and seven of its past eight. The Islanders have lost seven in a row and nine of 10. The Isles – the childhood team for this Long Island boy — have allowed 35 goals in the last seven games. So just maybe, the Wild, which has scored seven goals in the past six games, scores more than two goals? Actually, two desperate teams usually make for a good game.
After yet another groin injury kept him out of all but two games so far this season, prodigal star Marian Gaborik returned to the lineup -- and to form -- the other night against Calgary. The Wild still lost and, bummer for us, Gaborik surprisingly did not re-injure his groin.
As we've seen with Team Ovechkin, even if a team is otherwise playing poorly, a guy like Gaborik can help them make mincemeat of the Isles defense. It doesn't help that a team leader on D has very little faith in the defensive scheme Scott Gordon is running. Brendan Witt sounded guardedly optimistic to the scheme back in training camp; now he's ready for a change -- at least in lead-protecting situations. (But how many leads have the Isles had lately?)
“When I talk to Scott about changing it up, his feeling is the system will work but that we haven’t executed it,” said Witt. “But my feeling is, if you want to win, you install a system that works best for the players you currently have.”
Now, I love Witt -- I mean, if I'd put a post-Turgeon name on any of my Islanders jerseys, it'd be him or Hunter -- and I can see where a guy like him is coming from. But his play since returning from injury has looked ... immobile at best. I optimistically chalked that up to him still possibly being hurt, but if that's not the case, he needs to figure out how to give this system the old college try. His lukewarm critique of Gordon's scheme may well prove warranted in the end. Or, it may prove that stay-at-home banger types like him just can't excel in the system. "It's a very hard system." You're damn right it is.
For what it's worth, the Islanders went 5-6-2 without Witt (including the Stars loss, where he played only 3:07 before getting hurt). They are 5-12-1 with him. That could just be the luck of the schedule (and their only winning streak of the season). Or it could be something else.
So now Greg Logan is -- rightly -- picking up on a theme that we predicted would be coming: The Islanders suck 5-on-5, so should Gordon adapt his system to the weak personnel?
I wanna say right now, no. I don't want to outright Tank for Tavares, but I also don't want to scuttle the chance of instituting an exciting style of play with speedsters and mobile guys who will be here a while (Mark Streit, Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey, Trent Hunter) just because some of the guys who won't be here can't hack it. I don't want to institute a modern trap just to "get by" this year. This year isn't about "this year." The Islanders are widely regarded as the worst roster on paper. So save final judgment on the system until we have personnel with a chance of executing it.
(Ironic, though, that last summer Garth Snow said Ted Nolan's defensive scheme was more fit for the Red Wings' personnel, when Overspeed seems to cry out for such talent, no?)
Now, in honor of our foes over at Hockey Wilderness, here are 5 questions for tonight's game, which are unfortunately individually focused:
1. What'll it be, Mike Comrie? He returns from injury tonight. Will he show enough for the Islanders to parlay him into something nice after the holiday freeze?
2. And you, Kyle? Okposo, who still hasn't been in the NHL for even half a season, has had a tepid year so far. He returns from injury with a chance to shine in his old stomping grounds.
3. Can you see the puck, Joey? November's third star of the month has had an awful December. MacDonald's line: .871 save% with 25 GA in 6 games.
4. Is this the beginning of the end for Brendan Witt? I applaud Witt for being honest. But if it's not working for him here, and if GM Garth Snow wants to stick to the Gordon plan, and Gordon wants to stick to the Gordon plan, Witt may become a trade target for some team that doesn't ask old dogs to learn new tricks.
5. The Weight for 1,000: Tonight? Three points away from 1,000, Weight's now in the area where you can think about it happening in one game. But I'm not going to pretend the Islanders will score three goals against Jacques Lemaire.