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Islanders Gameday: Coach Kongs, and *winger* Andy Sutton's return

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The Islanders are on a six-game regulation losing streak, which was separated from a 14-game winless streak by a solitary win -- against the league's other worst team, no less. So each gameday I do a mental exercise: "If the streak ends tonight, how does it happen?" It starts, probably, with a lead, and tonight must involve an inconsistent opponent playing on back-to-back nights and coming off a big OT win that handed Washington -- yes, the Capitals -- their seventh straight loss. Maybe the Ducks have the ol' letdown?

Rcdonkeykong2_medium_medium                       Capuanokong_medium
Carlyle Kong's Ducks (17-13-4, t-6th) @ Capuano Kong's Isles (5-18-5, 30th)
Nassau [
gloriously unsponsored] Veterans Mem. Coliseum
7 p.m. | MSG+ | NHL audio - WRHU 88.7
Duck, duck, goose:
Anaheim Calling | Battle of Cali

Last time the Islanders faced the Ducks, Scott Gordon was still coach, and the NYI heavily outshot the Ducks yet lost 1-0 on a late goal because they couldn't finish any chances. That time I pointed you to Battle of California for Sleek's cartoon inspirations like the one above (on the left, not my butcher job on the right). [Back story on Carlyle Kong here. I figured it called for a Capuano Kong.] If Carlyle Kong is both threatening to hurl that barrel as well as hoisting the barrel in a Cup-lifting kind of way (as is his right), then Capuano Kong is lugging the barrel in a very burdened way.

That barrel is heavy, filled with things like five of the Isles' projected top six defensemen on the injured list, and an offense that is burying what feels like 1 in 57 shots. (Technically it's 4 of their last 57 shots, and 8 of 139.) Some night, some time, that barrel will get just a little bit lighter and these players will feel better about themselves. Why not tonight?

Why not tonight? Well, last night Jonas Hiller did all the work stealing another win for the Ducks, so maybe we can hope they throw in backup Curtis McElhinney, who ... shutout the Islanders last time.

It should help to have Radek Martinek (assumed) back, as the Ducks' top line is formidable and it's a tall order to ask the two young guys to take it on their own. But there is a hint of more good news on the blueline injury front: Milan Jurcina had his first full practice, and Mike Mottau has been "cleared for physical activity."

UPDATE: Per the Islanders, both Martinek and Jurcina are back tonight, and Rick DiPietro gets the start.

At minimum, tonight will be better than Monday in Nashville, when AHLer Dylan Reese and full-cage Bruno Gervais were thrust into an awkward marriage while good-but-young Andrew MacDonald and Travis Hamonic represented the Islanders strongest pair.

 

Quote Machine

Speaking of the younger blueliners, I'll steal some quotes from the official site because they might provide a wee window into how they're thinking. First, Travis Hamonic on the only pro coach he's ever had:

"I think Cappy’s system fits my game very well," Hamonic said. "I thrived under it in Bridgeport and so far, I think I’m doing pretty well here. I don’t think Cappy is as defensive as everyone thinks. We’re just trying to be responsible out there and I think when we need an opportunity or we need a chance, we switch things up."

"He’s (Capuano) a smart coach," Hamonic said. "He definitely knows the technical details of the game better than most coaches but he can also be a players’ coach at the same time. Hopefully we can keep pushing the pace with his system and really try to take advantage of the opportunities we’re creating."

Hey, if Hamonic feels comfortable under Capuano, I'm happy. Hamonic's development, thrust up to the NHL so quickly thanks to injuries, is of the utmost importance right now.

Now to the fleet of foot Jack Hillen, who's had a rough season so far:

"When I was out, I really dissected my game," Hillen said. "I diagnosed what I need to do better and I watched other defensemen play. I felt like (joining the rush) was one area of my game, that before the injury, I wasn’t doing as well. That’s one thing I’ve really focused on, is when the time is right, when the opportunity is right, I try to get up in the play."

Hillen, of course, has been paired with James Wisniewski recently and that has posed challenges for both of them. Ducks fans who've read this far will be tickled to know both sides of Wiz's game have arrived as billed. His game has been up and down -- and lately, mostly down -- so I'm entirely unsure what to make of his looming free agency other than to say, well, he is what we were told he was: Big shot, big hits (though how many lately?), curious defensive decision-maker.

 

Andy Sutton...Winger?!

It's been noted Hillen did best when next to a big defenseman. A big defenseman like Andy Sutton. Oh, hey, speak of the devil... welcome back.

It's not just the Anaheim Calling gang that has noticed Sutton has not performed as billed -- Sutton himself and Carlyle Kong know it too. ... Which is why Sutton was scratched last Friday and has gotten a total of 19 shifts in the last two Ducks games.

And get this: Before his six shifts (5:49) last night (apparently at forward), he also played on the wing against Minnesota. His former Islanders teammates may know to be on the look out for his big hip check in Sutton's Half-Boards, but given his recent ice time, they may be looking for quite a while.

I wish I could say I'm surprised by this turn of events -- well, okay, the wing part is surprising -- but Sutton has always struck me as a limited guy who nonetheless busts his tail to play to the max of his abilities. That means when he's on, he is on, and he can be a key shot blocker, PK guy, and even free a Jack Hillen to roam while Sutton holds down the fort and intimidates people with hits. Hell, he even got Scott Gordon's system better than most, I thought. But it also means he can take a while to round into form, particularly after one of his many injuries. And remember, he started this season by breaking his thumb in the first game.

So I expect he'll get it back again for the Ducks before the season and his contract is over. But he is at the age and size, and was always at the mobility level, where you fear diminishing returns. I suspect that's why he wasn't brought back by the Isles, who just went through publicly visible decline with Brendan Witt -- and I know that's why I wasn't surprised by the decision.

 

First Islanders Goal (FIG) pool

Here's how this works: You pick who's going to score the first Isles goal. You have to do it before the first puck drops. The first person to leave a FIG pick enters a comment -- either here or in the evening game thread -- with "FIG" and their pick, and the TIME of the goal (time is an important tiebreaker). Everyone else who picks replies to that first FIG comment. If you don't do it that way, you not only upset JPinVA's OCD, you make it harder for me to find the right pick when I'm tallying on rainy days. Some picks may get lost that way.

Anyway, here are the leaders so far, according to my records. Let me know if you have object to the tally, and show me your evidence:

First Place so far: Hakker, IDigRcks, 2 wins each
Other winners: MTBVibe, JPinVA, cunchpunch, Anarcurt, Martylnd, Icelanders, mayrain, Les Beaver

Isles who've scored FIGs but were not picked that night: Matt Martin (twice!), Grabner (also twice!), Parenteau, Sim. And there have been three shutouts (and countless losses) since we officially started this game for the first loss of that 14-game winless streak.

Isle who FIGs the most: Moulson, with four since we began.