Despite appearances, current form, and the general fatalist nature of their fanbase, the New York Islanders are not dead, not yet. Twenty-seven games does not an 82-game season make, and eight points (behind Metro third-place New York) is not insurmountable at this stage of the season.
However, their chances are stretched about as thin as could possibly be considered doable, there happens to be five teams to leap to reach third place (Metro), and the upcoming schedule looks as close as you can get to fatal.
Pittsburgh at home tonight, then the much-noted brutal Western swing through St. Louis, Los Angeles, Anaheim, San Jose and Phoenix. Those opponents have a combined +113 goal differential through the first ~27 games of the season. The Isles are minus-21.
Who else here misses the lockout intraconference schedule?
Granted I was stumbling under the influence through Memphis, shouting "Why did I sire an Isles fan?" to confused college football-watching bystanders, but what I saw of the Isles' 3-2 OT loss to the Capitals was about 59 minutes of really nice play.
Of course, the Caps actually aren't that good -- they're second in the Metro now, but they should drop -- so producing two goals and allowing two late backbreakers to a not-great team on home ice when you desperately need a win means ... you actually aren't that good either.
Nonetheless, Anders Nilsson and the rest of the lineup will go again tonight. That means Calvin de Haan plays again after a nice season debut next to Thomas Hickey. It also means Brock Nelson (and Eric Boulton and Radek Martinek) watches from overhead, most likely to save Butch Goring the announcer's nightmare but fans' dream of handling a Nielsen, a Nilsson and a Nelson in one lineup.
Via the official site, Travis Hamonic captures the Nilsson scouting report in a nutshell:
"He's so big... He covers a lot of the net and moves well."
The Penguins official site tweets their lines, no surprises really:
Marc-Andre Fleury gets the start in goal, facing the Islanders for the first time since he was yanked for repeat fumbles during last year's playoffs. After playing their backup against the Isles twice this season, the Penguins obviously believe the reeling Islanders no longer pose a threat to Fleury's confidence. Or something.
With a regulation win tonight, the Penguins would nearly double the Islanders' standings point total before we hit the 30-game mark. You'd never know these teams played a tough six-game series last spring -- you'd never know, that is, if they (alright, and we) hadn't talked about it all summer.
Alas, without Lubomir Visnovsky -- a key player in so many ways, and a cog when they actually do outplay top opponents -- it's hard to see them avoiding a continuing spiral.
To be fair to the Isles for tonight though: When they're on their game, and that includes about every other time they face the Penguins, it makes for entertaining, nail-biting, crazy hockey. Unfortunately, when Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are both on their game -- as they are now, 1-2 in the league in scoring -- that means the Isles end up on the short end.
So it goes. So we watch anyway.
Leave your First Islanders Goal picks for tonight over here.
Leaderboard thus far:
23 - martylnd
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9 - Mulligan
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8 - zack779
...with the rest of the board here. jeanluc1968 was the only winner last time -- the only one brave enough to go Clutterbucking.