Last game, the New York Islanders hosted the offensively struggling Philadelphia Flyers, who welcomed Scott Hartnell and Vincent Lecavalier back to the lineup and promptly scored three (four, and five!) goals in a game for the first time all season.
Tonight the Islanders host the offensively struggling New York Rangers, who welcome Carl Hagelin back to the lineup and have yet to score more than three goals in a game all season.
Cue your doomsday scenario here.
This is the first of five meetings in the Battle of New York this season, but it is annoyingly the only one at Nassau Coliseum. (The new alignment and schedule means five games against Metropolitan rivals, and the outdoor game this year is technically an Isles home game.) Hopefully that novelty infuses the usual rivalry life into what would otherwise be a quiet Tuesday night in Uniondale.
It is not through oversight nor fatigue but through desperation that we reach the fifth paragraph of this preview before we mention Thomas Vanek. Vanek slots in, with his righthanded stick, where the left-shooting Matt Moulson once skated. He should bring excitement, goals and #26 confusion.
The grand experiment for which GM Garth Snow has risked two draft picks and goodwill is whether Vanek makes that top line better. If he does, we'll rethink some of our assumptions about how stylistically different parts add up to make a whole. If he doesn't, we'll conclude that Vanek and Moulson were similar enough in ultimate outcome (goals) to make the trade unnecessary.
One thing the Islanders do add in the deal is a right-handed shot, something not so important for one line's balance but something that is useful in power play tactics. P.A. Parenteau and Brad Boyes previously filled that role and were signed in part for that specific purpose. A successful power play requires the flexibility to offer a few different looks, and one of those looks is best served by having a potential trigger in either circle.
But the talk isn't really of the power play, which still ranks 2nd in production at 27.8 percent (including five power play goals from the departed Moulson). Vanek is first focused on his new line:
"It's going to take time obviously to build chemistry. But watching those two guys over the years - Playing against Johnny and watching him, he's a special player, and I've known Kyle for a while. It's an opportunity that I really look forward to."
So, here we go. Fittingly, the Vanek era -- with its genesis in a Rangers-like trade -- begins against the city rivals. Will we still be living it in 2018?
Capuano on the Defense
Of course the big trade swapped a strength for a strength. The weaknesses are in the back. Jack Capuano sounds like he sees this, but also sees room for improvement within:
"We just collectively back there have to play better. Guys are giving us what they have, [but] we're making mistakes that they see, they know and I've got the confidence in them that it's going to get better. But for us to be successful, we have to have better decisions with the puck on our stick. Our gaps have got to be better, our sticks have got to be better, we've got to defend harder. We've gone through this. I have the confidence they're going to rebound."
The Islanders are dressing Brock Nelson, theoretically on the fourth line, as Eric Boulton sits and regular fourth-liner Colin McDonald is still working through that hip issue. On that note, Arthur Staple reports the still-injured Brian Strait had been dealing with his own injury for a while, theoretically excusing some poor performances.
The Rangers had their home opener last night and were shut out by Montreal. Henrik Lundqvist played in that one, so Cam Talbot will face the Islanders tonight. Rick Nash is still out with a concussion that has yet to show signs of significant improvement. Hagelin, if he's truly healthy, represents a dangerous addition to their squad.
On the subject of the Rangers playing back-to-back, Kyle Okposo pledged:
[The Rangers] played last night, so we want to jump on them right away."
It always sounds plausible on paper.
Leave your First Islanders Goal picks here. If you pick Vanek and he doesn't score, then you have ruined this trade.