With the New York Islanders trying to break a four-game losing streak tonight in a return home against the Nashville Predators, coach Jack Capuano announced what equates to a significant change: Kevin Poulin will start his second consecutive game.
It's a minor thing, but it's also quite a noticeable thing, as it's something the Isles haven't done (outside of injury) in two seasons.
The Islanders have relied heavily on Evgeni Nabokov this season and through all of the Lockout III season, mostly turning to Poulin only when splitting back-to-backs. In fact, this will be the first time since April 2012 that Nabokov will go two consecutive games without starting, and that occasion was due to injury: The Islanders rode pending unrestricted free agent Al Montoya through the final games of the season while John Grahame -- yes, John Grahame -- was signed as emergency backup.
The previous occasion of consecutive non-Nabokov starts was in February of that season, when Montoya stepped in after Nabokov had the flu.
Jack Capuano on why Poulin (other than the obvious):
"I think he's played well. We haven't given him a couple of starts back-to-back here and he's deserving of it."
Even independent of complaints about the goaltending, this is interesting because at some point it will be the natural evolution of things: Poulin is the current "heir apparent" as the Islanders seek a long-term answer in net. The 38-year-old Nabokov will be gone either next year or soon after, and the sooner the Isles think they have a replacement, the more comfortable they'll be with letting the veteran go.
So I wouldn't read too much into it just yet, but if Poulin plays well enough he'll at least force the coaching staff to think about this more often.
Of course, what has sunk the Isles lately has been a horrible run on the penalty kill, which was hot at the beginning of the season and putrid over the last two weeks:
"We were a top-10 (penalty kill) team at the start of the year and whatever happened, it's in the past and we have to move forward and get back to basics."
Meanwhile, another likely lineup note via Arthur Staple of Newsday: Cal Clutterbuck is expected to return for injury in place of Eric Boulton.
Nashville: Another Wounded Animal
25 Viktor Stalberg - 33 Colin Wilson - 13 Nick Spalding
24 Eric Nystrom - 11 David Legwand - 27 Patric Hornqvist
57 Gabriel Bourque - 7 Matt Cullen - 15 Craig Smith
16 Richard Clune - 28 Paul Gaustad - 26 Matt Hendricks
3 Seth Jones - 6 Shea Weber
59 Roman Josi - 8 Kevin Klein
42 Mattias Ekholm - 4 Ryan Ellis
30 Carter Hutton
39 Marek Mazanec
For the Predators, the big story is the revolving door in goal with Pekka Rinne out long term. That's resulted in consecutive 5-0 losses on this road trip, so the Preds will be looking on Long Island for what they could not find in New Jersey or Winnipeg.
The Preds are on one of those ridiculous Western Conference road stretches that began on Halloween in Phoenix, hitting L.A. before checking off time zones in Denver, Winnipeg and Newark. They finish the trip in Pittsburgh, so they no doubt see tonight as their chance to stop the ugliness.
The Preds are feeling a similar funk to the Islanders, with one key exception: The Isles are in the meandering (at best) Metro, while the Predators are in the powerhouse Central:
It may be early, but Nashville is falling behind quite a bit in the playoff race. Nashville is six points out of both the wild card, and the last divisional playoff spot. Again, the season is still young, but the United States Thanksgiving is generally the time when teams at least know what they have. We’re getting to a point where the Predators are getting a sense of if they’re a playoff team or whether they need to make some changes.
That 10-0 swing the last two games has dropped Nashville to a minus-17 goal differential, while their 5-on-5 goals for/against ratio is a hideous, 2008 Isles-like 0.54. In the "unlucky?" department, their special teams and save percentages have been middle of the pack, though their team shooting percentage of 6.5% is lagging. (That said, the Predators don't have any notable snipers, so...)
A reeling team you say? Great. The Isles have been a wonderful tonic for those.
This is the return meeting after the Islanders lost 3-2 in Nashville last month.
There were no winners (in so many ways) last game. Here is the updated FIG leaderboard, via Mike (click his comment to see the full standings):
17 - martylnd
10 - jjbiii
8 - tm
8 - Torgo
7 - 19holekc
7 - dunnowhat2type
6 - BobBourneIdentity
6 - Charlotte Isles
6 - jeanluc1968
6 - JPinVA
6 - skeeterman
More from Lighthouse Hockey:
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- Islanders News: Thomas Vanek return in sight; Travis Hamonic OK
- New York Islanders Need Goals from Michael Grabner
- [Bits] Matinees, Medical Mysteries and Memorializations
- New York Islanders Myths and Memes: On Regin, Bouchard, and other things that aren't the problem