The New York Islanders fumbled their latest shot at the New Jersey Devils, and the Pittsburgh Penguins knocked theirs out of the park, so tonight we have the Penguins at the Coliseum with a chance to take over the Eastern Conference lead, while the Islanders can either take back a share of second place in the Atlantic with a win, or fall back to NHL quasi-.500 with a loss.
It's been an uneven start to this season for the Pens, with disappointing losses to Toronto, Winnipeg and the Islanders. But they've also beaten the Rangers by three (twice) and are coming off big-margin victories over the Devils and Washington Capitals on back-to-back weekend games.
The Pens were my preseason pick to take the division; between tonight and two upcoming games with the Rangers, the Isles have a chance to influence how much separation the Pens get.
Tonight the Penguins are looking to avenge a thorough home defeat to the Isles in front of the largest crowd in their new building's history. Coach Dan Bylsma said the Islanders "mopped" up the Pens last time, and to a man they feel that game exposed some things that needed addressing.
It's safe to say we can't look for the same lopsided affair we saw in Pittsburgh. But can Isles special teams and some line tweaks do the trick?
The new lines, as noted yesterday, reflect Kyle Okposo's failure to build much of a connection with John Tavares and Matt Moulson thus far this season, as well as Colin McDonald's return from suspension for a hit in the last Penguins-Isles meeting. Brad Boyes and Okposo swap places, with Okposo reuniting with Frans Nielsen and Michael Grabner.
McDonald, meanwhile, returns to recreate his line with Keith Aucoin and David Ullstrom. Casey Cizikas drops back to fourth and bumps Eric Boulton back out of the lineup.
Here's Boyes at the morning skate, on how playing with Moulson and Tavares on the power play may have helped the chemistry:
"I think it helps a lot. You get a sense of how they are and how they play when you watch them, but being on the ice is a lot different. Being with them on the power play is going to be big. The difference will be d-zone coverage and coming up through the neutral zone."
I'm particularly interested, and a little worried, about that last sentence.
Evgeni Nabokov gets the start again in goal. Marc-Andre Fleury goes for the Pens.
What to Watch: Over at Pensburgh, they're excited at the results of this season's pairing of Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik together. No doubt Cizikas was excited when that pair helped him get his first NHL goal on the fourth-line forecheck.
Meanwhile, as interesting as the wing swap on the Isles lines is how Jack Capuano uses home ice to deploy them. We should be able to get a feel for that if the two teams actually go a full period without a rash of penalties.
LHH on the Air: Our own indentured servant Chris McNally will be on First and Ten Sports around 6:30 to discuss the Isles and, as Chris describes it, air his weird voice to the masses. (Personally, I think he should talk like Buffalo Bill from "Silence of the Lambs.") It's guaranteed to be the best LHH audio you can find this side of a YouTube clip shot in a bunker.
First Islanders Goal picks
Put your FIG picks in over here, ya hear.