The Panthers spent last night resting at home -- or you know, maybe some South Florida night life was involved -- while the Islanders spent it working overtime in Raleigh, then traveling to the next stop on this mini road swing. That sort of contrast for a back-to-back isn't what you'd call ideal, but it happens in this league. If the Isles are in any way lethargic or road-weary, it will fall on Rick DiPietro to bail them out, as he returns for the first time since early February, when he fell victim to a bout of the widespread bug known as Islander Face (plus knee swelling).
The Panthers had the most aggressive sell-off of all at the deadline, shipping out warm bodies throughout the Southeast Division and the Eastern seaboard. Dale Tallon has now built a cap-squeezed Cup winner in Chicago, a playoff bubble team in Atlanta, and accessorized the playoff dreams of teams throughout the Southeast and beyond. The last Isles-Panthers meeting may have helped convince Dale Tallon that many of his vets weren't worth salt.
Of course, as Islanders fans we are all thankful for the last time Tallon decided one of his players wasn't worth much. The result: one 29-goal scoring, fast-Tweeting, two-way Austrian machine.
The Panthers won the first two meetings this year, but that last one in February was a cakewalk for the Isles buoyed by a Matt Moulson hat trick and Al Montoya's third win as an Islander.
Speaking of Montoya, he now has 15 games played as an Islander (13 starts), which puts him just six short of Rick DiPietro (21 GP, all starts) for the season lead. DP's health the rest of the way likely determines whether Montoya has a chance in the final 10 games.
For tonight, the social media platform that Michael Grabner prefers for his Moulson and Okposo jabs tells me that both Scott Clemmensen and DiPietro get the nod.
Watch Out For
Sergei Samsonov, the much traveled speedster who Carolina tossed Tallon's way at the deadline, has 2 goals and 5 assists in 9 games with the Panthers. This isn't the first time Tallon has acquired Samsonov (he was briefly a Blackhawk, and then not), so I'm not sure if Tallon was in pure cost-cutting mode -- Samsonov is a pending free agent -- or if Tallon wanted to convince Samsonov that Florida is nice. Regardless, Samsonov is always a threat to do something when he wants to be, and this just seems like the kind of time where he might do something.
Either that, or Mike Santorelli will again pad his stats against the Isles.
Jesse Joensuu: A Finn Named Jesse is not quite someone to watch out for, but in my mind he's someone to watch if only because his contract is expiring and he'll require a decision from the Isles. At this time of year when wins feel good but are hardly essential, I don't mind focusing on things like that. He did okay in the last game. He needs to forecheck wisely and go to the net even more -- and maybe put COZOs (Comeau Offensive Zone Orbit) to good use, too.
The Guy Who Can't Catch a Break: Seriously, Rick DiPietro cannot catch a break. That's just sad stuff.
I spoke with a non-Isles hockey fan this morning who saw me wearing Isles gear -- I was the emergency goalie at today's skate -- and he asked me if DiPietro was coming back again. I said, "Yes, tonight in fact, unless somehow not everything I read on Twitter is true." The guy marveled at DP's luck, and admired his long comeback road.
Point being, it was fun having someone discuss DiPietro without all the divisive baggage that comes out when Isles fans discuss him.
The face is so not a concern here; the knee, how it enables him to move, how he's able to move laterally, and how it responds afterward, are. One thing I'm certain from watching his 21 games this season: DiPietro still has the glove, still has his shot-blocking abilities. It's the other parts of playing goal (plus the tendency to overplay the puck, which is part of having a goalie's brain but not necessarily part of playing goal) that bear watching, and influence the future.
It seems like Al Montoya after just 15 games is on a path to extend his shotgun marriage with the Isles. With two other non-DP goalies in the system coming off injuries though, to me DP's form in the final weeks of the season still has an impact on summer decision-making.
You've heard those rumblings that the Isles will have a third jersey again next year, right? We'll see. I'm really, really happy with how they've restored their current home and road look, so I don't want anything more. But I know they make money, and I know fans can love them when done well. It's just hard for me to picture a third look fitting in with the current scheme, which makes me worry we'll see something completely different.
The Icethetics blog post that recirculates that rumor also says the Panthers will be making changes next year, bringing back red. I sure hope so. I don't hate their current look -- other than the RBK-ified pinstripes and the stupid interruption in the sleeve bands -- but they always looked good in red. I don't mind their current alternate jersey on its own (like if it were an expansion team), but I don't understand how those shades of blue fit the Panthers identity. (Don't understand why the Predators went that direction, either, but at least the Preds needed some kind of change.) When I see these these Panthers in blue -- and I don't know if we'll see them tonight -- I think, "Cats' Pajamas!" Night time wear, not the red visual identity that they've carried off well ever since they came into the league.
I think about this stuff too much.
FIG Picks, Etc.
FIG Picks: Put your FIG picks in this FanShot here.
Prospects: If you missed it, Nino Niederreiter scored his 40th goal the other night for Portland, and Aaron Ness' pro debut in Bridgeport was a little busier than you'd expect for a guy who was playing college hockey seven days ago.
This post will serve double-duty as our in-game thread. I won't be around during the game, so go to the net and somebody in white get a hat trick.