In what is supposedly unique among strongly opinionated fans of warring teams, the site managers at SB Nation's hockey blogs are actually pretty friendly with one another.
Don't know if that's because hockey fans are just happy to find fellow members of the tribe to shoot the bull with; or because so many of us moved our sites to SBN in a very condensed Mirtle-led conquest, making us newbs at the same time? I know I'll tend to hear any hockey fan out as long as they aren't an incoherent or raving lunatic. (In other words, a mainstream sports radio host. But I repeat myself.)
Anyway, sometimes we trade razzing and intelligence on our respective teams. John of Devils blog In
Trap Lou We Trust sent me five questions for his preview of tomorrow's game. (Typically I'd send some Q's back, but we were both pressed for time.) In the future, if I get such questions with enough lead time, I'll post all of them here for your input. In this case, time being constrained, I sent answers off already.
But the questions are still worth mulling over for your input -- and that way any ILWT readers coming over here can see beyond just my opinion. (Meanwhile, you can find my answers, and any reactions, incorporated in his preview tomorrow.) So let me know what you think, where I went wrong, what I omitted -- or even tell me, "Gee Dom, you're swell," if you're into the whole brevity thing.
1. The Islanders are coming off a big, eye-opening loss to the Sabres after a glorious winning streak. How do you think the Islanders will respond for tonight's game? Will the Devils fans see the dreaded "Overspeed" or will the Islanders take a more methodical approach to the game?
Your guess is as good as mine...
They are young, a bit inconsistent, and with a thin margin of error. The loss in Buffalo -- jolting as it was after four wins -- wasn't shocking because the Sabres essentially had four days to prepare for a rematch, while the Isles had to deal with the Oilers. As much as the Sabres adjusted their play, the Islanders just plain looked lethargic.
As long as Gordon is in charge though, you're going to see the Islanders attempt an aggressive forecheck (technically, "overspeed" was a once-used term referring to the pace he instills in practice in order to train for a more intense forecheck). When it works, it's beautiful and hilarious to see other teams cough the puck up. When it doesn't, we're reminded that we have a lot of average players.
2. John Tavares is the big "name" on the Islanders this season. That said, let's talk about another impressive Islander: Matt Moulson. What does he bring to the table for the Islanders?
Moulson is a family friend of Tavares -- Tavares played youth hockey with Moulson's younger brother -- so the first thing he brought to the table was familiarity and chemistry with the #1 pick, which helps him settle in. As luck would have it, he's also a tireless skater, strong on the puck, and possesses a deceptive shot. Plus, he doesn't fear the front of the net, which helps occupy opponents while Tavares or Kyle Okposo have the puck.
3. Let's talk goaltenders. Martin Biron got a ton of work on Wednesday against the Sabres. Do you expect him to get the start in an attempt for him to bounce back, or should the Isles start Roloson instead?
Gordon has been alternating the two pretty regularly, and them performing closer to expectations was the first step in that four-game win streak. I'd bet on Roloson.
4. While Brendan Witt scoring more than one goal in a game is certainly something to celebrate, the Islanders' blueline giving up an average of 33.1 shots against per game is not. Given that the Devils are shot-happy as of late, what do you think the Isles can do to cut that down?
Get better defensemen? To my dismay, Garth Snow stuck with the blueline he had over the summer. I think he's just riding out contracts (Sutton is a UFA this summer, Witt and Martinek will be in 2011), because if he actually thinks this is an adequate blueline rather than a bridge to when the team is more competitive, we've got problems.
The high shots allowed is going to continue until that changes. Aside from a few clunkers, most Islanders games these days are around a 30-30 shot matchup. These Gordon games can be wild. Given their blueline caliber, the best the Islanders can do is what Gordon wants: Control the puck more than the other guys, apply pressure, draw penalties, convert on the powerplays that follow.
5. Lastly, do you have a prediction for tonight's game? Keep in mind, Yann Danis will start for the Devils.
Danis does change my hopes a bit. But he showed last year that he can sometimes be stellar -- and when better to show that than against the team that told you "thanks, but no thanks"?
While the Islanders stunned the Devils not once but twice late last season, I look at when the Isles last played Lemaire, also late in March: Ironically, the conservative Wild had a banner offensive night -- a 6-2 win -- at the expense of Danis, who had an awful night. (It's worth remembering that in Danis's last debut against a former team, the Islanders coughed up a 4-1 lead to lose to the Habs 5-4.)
Given Leamire's well-noted trapist history and general ability to stifle teams from doing what they want, I wouldn't be surprised if the Devils frustrate the Islanders the same way the Sabres did. I know you guys say the 2009 Lemaire isn't a trapper anymore, but that doesn't mean he'd shy away from luring an aggressive young coach into one.
That said, these two teams' special teams and 5-on-5 performance aren't too far off yet. Whoever earns the powerplays and converts, wins.