[Note: This game starts at 4 p.m. EST, due to some absurd costume show known as a "Pro Bowl."]
It's good for hockey that David Booth, out most of this season with a Mike Richards-induced concussion, is back and playing. It's a bit of a bummer for the Islanders that they draw Booth's first game back.
The Panthers haven't lacked for offense against the Islanders this year (12 goals in 3 games, though the last game was a 1-1 affair ended via shootout). But in that last game the Cats lost Islander-killer Nathan Horton to friendly fire, so an offensive spark is most welcome.
The big news today is Charles Wang's continued China flirtations and, league-wide, Brian Burke's bombshell dealings acquiring Dion Phaneuf and J.S. Giguerre. The Islanders host Phaneuf's new team March 14. More on the Islanders-in-China training camp gambit later, but quickly:
I support spreading hockey to all corners of the planet; I don't support my team being the guinea pig to do so. Opening the season in Europe is hard; doing all the travel to Asia right before putting the body through a grueling NHL season is, I suspect, harder. In terms of the Islanders' outlook next season, I'd much prefer they not start off with intercontinental travel and all of the physical, logistical and sleep-habit challenges that entails. But Wang supports the causes he believes in, and he certainly has the right to put his resources toward this one. I respect that.
No major roster updates with yesterday's road matinee followed by today's early start time. Presumably Rick DiPietro gets the start; beyond that, it's natural to wonder whether Trevor Gillies is replaced by Blake Comeau or if some other tweak is made for a team that has now lost four in a row and five of six. Even with yesterday's loss to Philadelphia (now in 6th place), 6th through 13th in the East is still separated by just 3 points. Florida is one ahead of the Isles. Every game counts.
Prediction: The Pro Bowl is full of suck.