Islanders v. Maple Leafs games have been weird encounters in recent years. In the happy ending games, Dwayne Roloson essentially stole the show, as happened in the Islanders' lone win of the series this year, when Roloson stopped 29 and John Tavares potted the OT winner. Without Roloson, the Isles have been exposed in a couple of sloppy games, one being when Mikko Koskinen got the emergency start (the day Kevin Poulin dislocated his kneecap in warmups). The other, their last meeting a couple of weeks ago, was messy for both teams. It remained 1-1 until the final five minutes, when Phil Kessel scored the go-ahead goal against an injury-battered and fatigued Isles D.
That last one was a highlight show for both Al Montoya and James Reimer. Like Montoya, Reimer has been mostly lights out in the ol' "small sample" start to his career, though last time out he was lit up by Chicago for 5 goals in 19 shots. Like Montya, the glove for Reimer is one potential weakness. For an interesting read on Reimer's strengths and weaknesses, check out the Globe and Mail's James Mirtle's Q&A with the proprietor of The Goalie Guild. (By the way, that Goalie Guild site currently has Poulin ranked as the 12th-best goalie prospect, Koskinen as 16th, and Reimer as 18th).
We'll see how the Isles approach the Leafs tonight, and whether Jack Capuano has them prepped to avoid the run-and-gun pond hockey turnover fest of the February meeting. At five points back of 8th-place Buffalo, the Leafs still hold playoff dreams. So while it's theoretically play-it-out time for both teams, the incentive is there for them to put on a good show.
'That Line Just Needs Some Sandpaper'... for Real?
Like a lot of fans, Jack Capuano likes the look of the third line now that he's put Matt Martin there next to the existing duo of Josh Bailey and Blake Comeau:
"We’re going to keep them together for a little while here," Capuano said. "Matty (Martin) gives them space because of his size and his physical presence. Blake (Comeau) and Josh (Bailey) have played together, they penalty kill together, so they kind of know where each other are. I think once we get that line to gel a little bit, they’ve only been together for two games, I think they’re going to chip in a little bit more offensively.
A great attribute of hockey that makes it as much art as science is that it is not a video game, it is not an equation or input/output machine. So stacking the best 12 forwards you can find 1 to 12 is a good place to start with your lineup, but in practice it needs adjustments. Rob Schremp with Comeau and Bailey should've worked on paper, and probably works on an EA game, but there was something that never clicked in reality.
Adding Martin meanwhile, shouldn't work -- at least not based on his 5-on-5 play this year. I still don't know whether Martin's destiny is as a 3rd line winger who creates space or a 4th-line winger who provides energy and enforcement, or even a guy who gets bumped to the fringe as the lineup gets deeper. Many agree it'd have been better to develop him in the AHL rather than logging hit-focused fourth-line minutes this year, but obviously injuries scuttled a lot of plans this year.
Regardless, after a couple of games I'm not making any assumptions. But if that line works even for the near term it will be because Martin does provide a physical and forechecking element that others could not. And since he's not a dangling puck carrier, it carves out clearer roles for the three of them, like enabling dogs to handle the tasks fit to their breed: A two-way passer, a shooter with some puck skills (when not doing COZO's), and a banger who gets to the net and firms up everyone's spine.
During this phase of a season when the playoffs are out of reach, I love watching players in situations like Martin's because the book is still open. Most guys end up being about what scouts said they'd be, but there are always exceptions and you never really know until you try 'em. It's why we watch the games.
History: Easter Epic
As discussed a bit in this FanShot, the playoff commercials are back and this time they pretend to know the Islanders have some sort of playoff history.
I watched this game live that night -- all of it, insisting my dad keep me from falling asleep despite the napping temptation during intermissions. This game helped firm a lifelong pledge to never, ever go to bed during an NHL playoff OT (a pledge that cost me on a few final exams and papers, I'm sure).
Last year I complained that the NHL's "History Will Be Made" campaign completely ignored the Islanders except as a footnote at the beginning of the Oilers' aborted dynasty interruptus. (WebBard started to address this void with the clips linked at the bottom of this post.) So I'm certainly happy the Isles get some attention here. But what do you think about the clip? I don't want to bias your feedback, but I'm a little underwhelmed. After watching that marathon, it feels like they condensed a true epic into 10 seconds. It's a little rushed. Clip or no clip, got any memories to share from that night?
(By the way for newer visitors: As part of a fundraiser's publicity outreach, I was able to talk with Pat LaFontaine a bit in 2009 about the Easter Epic, his career, and headshots, among other topics.)
Staying there for a moment, here's an alternative Webby sent me last night, focused on the number of saves Kelly Hrudey made in that game (shots were 75-57. Just like I'll never forget the relief on LaFontaine's face or the gutted body language of Bob Mason after the winner, I'll never forget that figure):
This and That an' Uh
- Islanders iPhone app: Keith posted this the other day, and now we've got one brief review from Turgeon1992. Anyone else tried it? Thoughts?
- Point Blank with Allen Walsh: I've made the case outlining the Islanders' bargaining position enough. That interview with Walsh offers fun insight for any hockey fan.
- Bridgeport Chat: Michael Fornabaio's weekly is today at 1:30 p.m. It's Clear Day, too. (Per Lowetide: "Each Clear Day roster consists of a maximum of 22 players. According to AHL by-laws, only those players listed on a team’s Clear Day roster are eligible to compete in the remainder of the 2010-11 AHL regular season and in the 2011 Calder Cup Playoffs, unless emergency conditions arise as a result of recall, injury or suspension.")
- Hey, did you hear about Milan Lucic's suspension for that crosscheck to the head? Huh, me neither. It's a good thing the league is showing it's serious about eradicating such things. Not to keep harping on that, but this sport's media and fanbase really is filled with such self-righteous, situational-justice-rationalizing blowhards, it's sad. I'll get over it though.
- Lineup Notes: As mentioned yesterday, Ty Wishart is back in Bridgeport and Radek Martinek is expected to be back. Unfortunately, Evgeni Nabokov (Gaddafi-like grip on reality, 8-10 years) will be a scratch tonight.
Everybody's doing quite nicely with the FIG picks, and JPinVA's OCD is in temporary remission. Go to this FanShot to leave your pick for tonight's game.