"Eight o’clock can’t come soon enough. Hopefully the crowd is going to be our sixth man out there."
Oh, no doubt. If the live crowd is the sixth man out there, then you all outside the building from SoCal to the True North to Florida to Switzerland, Sweden, China and the mothership in New York are ... well I don't know what we'd call it but it's a breathing organism of hockey fans bonded by the Islanders, a wacky family that makes doing this so fun. It's that time again. So let's do this thing.
The important lineup notes are that Al Montoya is starting [official site], but Rick DiPietro (backup) is pumped just to be healthy and ready [Newsday], while Andrew MacDonald is ready to go and Nino Niederreiter -- who told Swiss media he expects it's a 2-3 week [German, h/t to Francesca] thing for a pinched nerve -- remains on IR. Meanwhile, down on the farm Michael Fornabaio has you covered with Sound Tigers info; Kevin Poulin starts for Bridgeport.
Now, what about the visitors tonight?
The 4-Year Panthers
As widely reported, remarked, and gawked at all summer, Panthers GM Dale Tallon cleared the salary decks and then refilled them with a ton of multi-year commitments to a ton of upgrades at each position except goaltender. Tallon added no less than six free agents on four-year deals, plus a seventh via trade who has five years left at $7.1 million per.
While we joke about Tallon's history of cap management and wonder why commit so many years to mid-tier players -- it's kind of like if Garth Snow had filled that post-Smyth gap year with four-year deals to Bill Guerin, Mike Comrie, Ruslan Fedotenko et al -- we can at least concede that Tallon has brought in better players. His team should be better than last year. For a fanbase whose patience has been tested eve more than ours for the last decade, I'm at least sympathetic to the need to make drastic changes.
The dropoff in the crease with Tomas Vokoun's departure should lessen that improvement, however, although goalies are unpredictable and crazy, so who knows. Jose Theodore gave up seven goals on 27 shots in his final preseason game.
Scott Clemmensen is injured. And so is last year's Islanders-killer, Mike Santorelli (three goals in four games vs. the Isles last year).
Here are the Cats lines according to Litter Box Cats:
I'm excited to see Eric Gudbranson's debut. Hopefully he doesn't learn bad habits from the declining Ed Jovanovski, who is signed for four years on a 35+ contract with a $4.125 million cap hit.
While those two have similar styles, the Brian Campbell-Kulikov pairing offers a completely different look. I wonder if those pairs will last.
What I see in the rest of that lineup is some nice depth, but also some wild cards with Kris Versteeg and Tomas Fleischmann trusted to be first-line wingers, and Jack Skille -- an import from Tallon's Chicago days -- being a question mark but playing with two nice defensive forwards in Sean Bergenheim and Marcel Goc.
It's by no means a dynamic lineup. But Stephen Weiss is excellent (thankfully Tallon didn't dump him), David Booth is dangerous when healthy, and if organized well by Kevin Dineen that team should be tougher to play than many expect. Certainly this year should be more enjoyable for Panthers fans than Peter DeBoer's final season.
Oh Captain, Mein Schwingerkönig
Mark Streit is your new captain, and tonight is his first official night. The Isles put up a quick clip with all 13 of the official captains in Islanders history:
FIGs and Such
Finally, for the commenting community here: If you want to make First Islanders Goal (FIG) picks, please see this thread for instructions on how we're doing it this year. With increased volume now, if you don't leave your pick in the right place, it probably won't be counted.
Oh, and on the not of community participation, Nova Scotia Islanders Fan set up a weekly cap-style pool; for details, check his FanShot.
Game thread will be up just before opening faceoff. Let's. Go. Isl-an-ders.