***NOTE: Treat this post as tonight's in-game thread, too.***
Our first-half navel gazing (okay, 49 games makes it more like three-fifths) continues in the roundtable here and the grade-by-social-promotion report cards here, but now after five days off and two very fast Grabner loops there are actual games to be played.
Most of the league kicks back into action tonight, including the Islanders in Atlanta, where Kevin Poulin gets another start and Nathan Lawson's MCL prognosis has doubled in length. Ty Wishart is up with the Isles (#6 in your program), but Katie Strang reports both he and Milan Jurcina will not play.
The Thrashers are most notably without Tobias Enstrom, whose loss hurts their powerplay -- especially now that Dustin Byfuglien has cooled off. Byfuglien's start was one of those great stories, and it's a successful re-transition for him back to the blueline, but hopefully people are a little more measured now about what constitutes Norris-caliber play. (Like maybe more than 6 seconds of PK time per game?) Because expecting consistent point production in a luck-and-bounce sport is a fool's game, particularly so for defensemen: Byfuglien hasn't recorded a point since 11 games ago, when he logged his 41st of the season.
Naturally, that means he'll break that slump tonight, probably with another OT winner to add to his six game-winning goals.
For the Islanders, Rob Schremp Hockey was again the extra guy at practice yesterday. In fact, the lines were so curious they bear reposting here:
26 Matt Moulson - 91 John Tavares - 15 PA Parenteau
40 Michael Grabner - 51 Frans Nielsen - 21 Kyle Okposo
57 Blake Comeau - 12 Josh Bailey - 37 Jeremy Colliton
17 Matt Martin - 28 Zenon Konopka / 44 Rob Schremp - 14 Trevor Gillies
So maybe Bailey slides back to center, and we'll see what remnants constitute the fourth line. Maybe Bailey and Comeau rekindle that opening-week magic...or maybe that was all a small-sample mirage.
On defense, Wishart was paired with The Chef in practice:
But with Wishart and Jurcina not going, we're either going to see a reprisal of the Reese-Gervais pairing (hide your kids, hide your wife), or we'll see something like that pre-break tweak where Martinek is in charge of Reese and Hillen goes with Gervais. I know everyone wants to get a look at Wishart, since he was the return for Dwayne Roloson -- stuff like that is what the final 33 games are for, no? -- but alas, it's not to be, not tonight...
...Which doesn't mean I won't take his recall as an opportunity to further my lifelong goal to get every quote from Caddyshack into this site somewhere before I've taken my final breath. Right now I'm on pace to get that done before Doug Weight retires. And people say assistant blog-keeper doesn't mean anything...
The Goalie Situation
So Poulin gets the start tonight, which likely means Rick DiPietro draws the tougher assignment against the Penguins tomorrow. Poulin was absolutely nails in a 1-0 loss to the Penguins just before the break, but maybe Jack Capuano doesn't want him suffering from the team's performance on the back end of a back-to-back. Well, it's a thought.
Kids Develop in the Darndest Ways
Remember Zach Bogosian and the 2008 draft? Of course you do, since it was another episode of Isles fan histrionics. Interesting discussion and link at BWA on his progress this year. At the top of that draft, classmate Drew Doughty was an instant star in L.A., while the Blues took the slow and careful route with Alex Pietrangelo -- a move that is paying off in a fine season this year. Then you have Luke Schenn, who was not regarded as highly as that trio but had an "NHL body" and so was thrust into the league with the Leafs right away, with mixed results.
Point being, the Isles' Bailey -- for whom they passed over Schenn and traded down -- has had a surprisingly up and mostly down season. But the jury on that changes by the month, which is why the jury will rightly remain out for another few years. Baby steps.
For the Thrashers, who were just 3-4-3 going into the break, it's back to business time. They hang on to the 8th seed by a thread over Carolina, so they'll need to regain their better form if they want to make this season more than a playoff tease.
For the Islanders, well, Capuano has already sounded the alarm not to feel too comfortable: "The microscope's on a lot of people," he's said, telling Newsday and official site reporters that the players and coaches now must play to impress.
Every day it seems we talk about the prospects in the system who will one day be pushing players up from below. I don't think any of the 20-somethings are in danger of losing their jobs just yet, but if they don't show they can take the next step in their development -- with consistent effort and smart decision-making -- one day their time will run out.
Return of the FIG: As the games resume, so must the seasonlong picks for First Islanders Goal (FIG). As always, if you're playing, leave your pick as a reply to the first FIG comment, or it might not be counted. Thanks.
New Daily Meme: Evgeni Nabokov is a scratch (cognitive difficulties).