Tonight is the first meeting of the season for the New York Islanders and the Carolina Hurricanes, and also the first meeting since the two Eastern basement dwellers were announced to be step-brothers under the NHL's new realignment scheme for 2012-13.
So, formally now: Welcome to the Patrick Division, Canes. She is a difficult but delightful beast.
As it was for the Islanders, 2011 was tough for the Hurricanes, finishing out of last season's playoffs and getting off to such an awful start this season that Kirk Muller is now their coach. (Yes, apparently he reported to his new team, and promptly.) Worse, Jeff Skinner missed most of December with a concussion -- after an Andy Sutton hit -- but at least he is nearing a return.
Important defenseman Joni Pitkanen has also been out with a concussion, and the Canes dropped their last game in Tampa thanks to a Steven Stamkos hat trick. Slumping Eric Staal went scoreless for six games before collecting five points in the final two games of 2011.
Like the Isles, the Canes have picked up recent wins against weaker teams (New Jersey, Toronto) while falling to the powerhouse Penguins. If you want a fun and quick scouting report on the Canes, here's what the Leafs (who lost in OT) thought of them before that meeting.
The "advanced stat" possession numbers likewise rank the Isles and Hurricanes right next to each other in the bottom tier of the league, keeping company with the Ducks (the next stop on this road trip) and recent Islanders victims the Flames, Oilers and Wild.
So yes, by record and by any measure, this is game the Isles can win and they'll have two more opportunities this month to separate themselves from the Hurricanes and collect feel-good points. Of course, we know how the Canes have had the Isles number in recent years, no matter what the teams' respective records. But if they want to make a move ...
December was now is the time.
Roster / Lines
The Islanders reported Micheal Haley, who had some sort of hand injury in his last fight but hasn't played since, has been returned to Bridgeport. [Elsewhere: IPB's latest prospect profile is of Haley's Bridgeport teammate Aaron Ness.]
They also had lines at yesterday's practice as unchanged from the last two games:
Matt Moulson - John Tavares - Kyle Okposo
Brian Rolston - Frans Nielsen - P.A. Parenteau
Michael Grabner - Josh Bailey - Matt Martin
Nino Niederreiter - Marty Reasoner - Tim Wallace
In his roundup of the three (winnable) road games ahead, Newsday's Arthur Staple notes Rick DiPietro and Jay Pandolfo have also made this road trip (as did Bridgeport goalie callup Anders Nilsson), so be on the lookout there.
But Al Montoya and David Ullstrom (concussions, each of them) stayed behind, and the ball should still be Evgeni Nabokov's to carry. Nabokov has started the last six games.
On the topic of struggling teams: P.K. Subban and Tomas Plekanec fought (briefly) at Canadiens practice, something that is hard to imagine happening with the Islanders right now.
Highlight Goals: The Score runs down their top 10 goals of 2011 ... with a familiar face at #5, who has practically duplicated the feat twice in the last week (once by assist, of course. Cause that's what he do.)
Leave your First Islanders Goal picks in this thread.