The New York Islanders and Carolina Hurricanes are in the amusingly Norris Division-like situation of battling for second place in the eight-team Metropolitan Division despite having unimpressive 3-2-x records.
After breaking a curse of sorts and sweeping the Hurricanes in 2011-12, the Isles were winless against them in three tries during last season's lockout year. As they adjust to a new reason for rivalry, this is the first of four meetings under the new format, a slate that is spread over the schedule in October, November, January and late March.
Both teams did not practice yesterday, so they had full morning skates today.
Evgeni Nabokov starts as expected for the Isles. In the revolving Matt door, Carkner is back in for Donovan, though Jack Capuano says that's not a knock on Donovan's play against the Oilers. Presumably they are looking for a little more defensive experience against the Hurricanes' dangerous forwards, as Donovan is still learning how to battle top NHL forwards in front of the net.
- The Hurricanes have promising rookie Ryan Murphy in the fold now, with Mike Komisarek as the little-used seventh defenseman -- but the local boy Komisarek will get a chance tonight as he dresses for his second game of the season.
- Also on defense, Tim Gleason now skating and nearing his return from a concussion. This summer they also picked up Ron Hainsey and Andrej Sekera, who pairs with Justin Faulk for their top defensive pair.
- New faces in the Canes' mix up front also include ex-Sabre Nathan Gerbe and ex-Everyone Radek Dvorak.
- Canes Country points out what the Isles have to fear here: A dangerous top line, which has had trouble producing thus far, but which strafed the Islanders for goals last season.
- Jiri Tlusty isn't always on that line with Eric Staal and Alex Semin (Tuomo Ruutu has been in his stead), but they're betting he's there tonight after returning there earlier this week in a 3-2 win in Toronto. [Update: Confirmed by Chip Alexander.]
- Shutdown Line says the Hurricanes power play has struggled thus far not through approach but through execution. So that will be an interesting matchup against the Islanders penalty kill, which has been good so far.
- Of course unlike the Hurricanes, the Isles power play has also been good, producing at over 20% in the early going.
But I wouldn't read too much into the special teams battle. The Islanders' 5-on-5 possession numbers have been ugly thus far but different in the last two games against (admittedly bad) Buffalo and Edmonton.
Basically, none of these figures fully reflect who the teams ultimately are, but rather what they've done and how things have gone in the season's opening weeks. That might continue tonight of course, but I'd sooner bet on something like what we saw last season: Close games, dangerous moments created by the Staal line, unwelcome contributions from Jordan Staal -- and maybe an aggravating goalie moment.
Islanders Zone Entries
For those interested in newer ways of assessing the game (you might call them fancy stats, or the maths, or in this case zone entries), garik16 posted (in comments) a look at individual players' offensive zone entry tallies through the first seven games. At its best, this tells you who has been best at moving the puck and retaining possession into the offensive zone (rather than dumping it in, which punts the possession question to a roll of the dice).
If you don't buy any of that, you can at least look at the data and conclude John Tavares is good at hockey (oh look: Frans Nielsen too!), and Travis Hamonic is indeed trying to carry the puck more.
(The numbers in the left are uniform numbers, obviously.)
Leave your First Islanders Goal picks for tonight's game over here.
More from Lighthouse Hockey:
- Metro Preview: by Staals' 11-Year-Old Cousin Oliver
- Islanders News: Matt Donovan, Josh Bailey Rebound; Offense from the D; Boss and Trots
- How the Metro Can Hurt: Carolina's Staal Attack
- New York Islanders Overcome Edmonton Oilers '8 Seconds of Hall' in 3-2 Win
- Post-Game Video: Capuano says Islanders approach with lead is not to 'protect'