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Islanders Gameday: Looking for openings as road continues in Carolina

Whenever the Islanders struggle (it's been known to happen) I look at their Atlantic rivals with cross eyes and think of a Czech joke. Or at least it's supposed to be a Czech joke, but you never know the true origin of these things.

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New York Islanders (4-5-2) @ Carolina Hurricanes (6-6-0)
7 p.m. | [pillar of society, surely] Center | MSG+(HD), WRHU 88.7
Where Captain Doug won his Cup:
Canes Country

The Czech Republic, Radek Martinek's birthplace, is home to some historic European culture, the oldest university in central Europe, and one of the prettiest cities in the world. But it's also been a historic footpath for empires on their way to grabbing more land -- from the Romans to the Soviets and all in between. Czechs know this and seem to have a fatalist black-comedy sense of humor and mischievous art to match: Invade if you must, just leave us to our beer.

Add 40 years of de facto Soviet occupation to the mix, and you get an undercurrent of..."jealousy" isn't the right word, but basically if your neighbor had something nice between 1948 and 1990, chances are he sold someone out (i.e. he's a Party sympathizer/collaborator) to get it. In that context, the joke goes like this:

An Italian, an American and a Czech are walking along the beach when they find a genie bottle. They rub it, the genie pops out, rubs his eyes and explains, "Alright, I can grant three wishes -- but only three. You guys will have to either fight it out or share."

They caucus and decide, "No problem. We'll share, one wish each."

The American, because he thinks he deserves it, goes first: "My neighbor, he has this beautiful wife. Fantastic body, lovely hair that smells ohhh so nice. Great curves. She even has a nice personality! Everyone loves her. I just want a woman like that."

"Done," the genie says. A beautiful woman pops up, and she and the American walk off into the sunset together.

Next is the Italian: "My neighbor, he has this gorgeous sports car. So fast. Hugs the road. Engine purrs. Great curves. Everybody envies it. I just want to have a car like that."

"Done," the genie says. The car appears, keys in the ignition, and the Italian speeds away, happy as can be.

Finally comes the Czech's wish: "My neighbor, he has this prize pig. It's charming, always winning awards and contests. Always the talk of the village...

...I just want that f#$%ing pig to die."

I don't cheer Zach Parise's injury at all -- he's too exciting of a player for this league to ever be without -- but I do look at the Devils' struggles even before the Parise injury and think: Their pig died. (Of course then I worry about them adding a lottery talent to their arsenal...::sigh::) Same with the Rangers each time they crash back down to Earth. And so on, so on. It takes a big man to not wish ill on your sports team's rivals; I am not a big man.

The Schedule: A brief opportunity this week?

Anyway, the Islanders pig isn't dead, but she's getting early visits from the vet. It's not just the four-game losing streak, it's what the losing streak reminds us of: No Mark Streit or Kyle Okposo, no Andrew MacDonald either...major injuries for a team with an already thin margin for error and a brutal opening schedule. This summer several pointed out how tough the opening schedule would be (Chickendirt is usually first) and I confess I underestimated it.

However, if the Isles are going to tread water as they head into a tough three-game West Coast swing preceded by a rematch with the Flyers, the next two games tonight and tomorrow are an opportunity. Whether by standings or by IslesAndIsles' power rankings, the Hurricanes and Senators at this early date are in the same territory as the Isles: The Canes have likewise had a road-heavy schedule (including Europe...which at least isn't China), while the Sens have had injuries to match the Isles' woes.

And in relative terms at least, the Islanders are now healthier: Jon Sim has been waived and assigned to Bridgeport. Michael Grabner is back in the lineup while Rob Schremp returns healthy for his season debut. (Good stuff from Scott Gordon on game planning and getting Schremp back into the lineup at Islanders Point Blank.) Matt Martin survives, assuming a role he likely would've had last month if not for a training camp injury.

This and That

  • Last Season: Last season the teams split (sort of) the series 2-2, though from the Canes' side it looks like 2-0-2 since the two Islanders wins came via OT (Kyle Okposo) and shootout (Backhand of Judgment).
  • The 18-year-old Who Remained: The Canes' leading scorer is currently exciting rookie Jeff Skinner, all 5'10" of him making Jim Rutherford look pretty shrewd for "reaching" for him at last summer's draft.
  • Faceoffs: The Canes continue to worry about their poor faceoffs (37.4%!), so they'll no doubt be thrilled to renew acquaintance with former Southeast rival Zenon Konopka.
  • Special Teams: The Canes powerplay is working at just 12%, while the PK is at 77.8% -- both inferior rates to the Isles, so perhaps there's an opportunity there.
  • Goaltending: We know from various reports that the Islanders will split up the back-to-back assignments tonight and tomorrow (which to me is still a no-brainer, given the 40-year-old and the rehabbing guy). Surely we'll hear today who gets the nod tonight. Rick DiPietro actually got two starts against Carolina last season, losing both.


Chris Botta reported these lines from practice, with Grabner joining a Frans Nielsen / Doug Weight line and Josh Bailey rejoining Blake Comeau on Rob Schremp's line. Interesting possibilities, to be sure. Defensively speaking, I see that as Frans and Weight easing Grabner back in while Comeau and Bailey look out for Schremp.

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