Having clinched a playoff spot, the New York Islanders are making a few lineup changes, but this clinch-hangover game is far from meaningless: Depending on how this and other games go tonight, the sixth-place Islanders could end the evening in anywhere from fifth to eighth place.
Ottawa and New York are each two points behind the Isles, and regulation wins would give them tie-breaker advantages if the Islanders fail to fetch a point in Philadelphia. On the other hand, an Isles win and a Toronto regulation loss puts the Isles in fifth.
The lineup changes? Well Kevin Poulin gets a start to give Evgeni Nabokov a rare chance at a spa and rest.
But the jarring move is removing Thomas Hickey in favor of Matt Carkner, which breaks up the fantastic partnership Hickey has developed with Lubomir Visnovsky over the second half of this season. Given the opponent and the possibility for garbage-time tomfoolery, the Isles arguably have incentive to put some policemen in the lineup.
But more than that, we'll get a look at how different defensemen work together as we head into the playoffs. Ever since Brian Strait's ankle injury, Carkner's rotating appearances (alternating with Radek Martinek) have come next to Mark Streit. With Strait back, the alphabetically tricky Strait-Streit partnership was reformed. So either way Vis gets a new partner tonight.
A look at line combos at Left Wing Lock reminds us that Visnovsky has ... played a little with everyone this year. Seriously, at even strength his partner has mostly been Hickey, but he's had minimal bites with Streit, Strait, Travis Hamonic, Andrew MacDonald and Joe Finley. One way or another, the Islanders will be experimenting tonight.
A Free Agent Named Joensuu
Up front it sounds like another likely policeman enters. Both Newsday and the Post suggest Eric Boulton is likely to step in for Jesse Joensuu. That's a shame for Jesse, who has looked good in limited minutes on the forecheck. But we've surely not heard the last of him this season.
As Michael Fornabaio noted in his Bridgeport wrap, if what he hears about a lockout-pro-rated Group VI games played threshold is true, then Joensuu is just five games (regular season or playoffs) short of
making keeping himself from becoming a Group VI UFA. That's not a reason to manipulate the lineup (though they know doubt promised Anders Lee some NHL games to burn a year on his deal and entice him to sign), but it is a reminder that the Islanders technically hold Joensuu's future in their hands.
Philadelphia: Lottery Watching
It's no secret a huge reason for the Flyers' post-Pronger ills is their shambolic blueline corps. Lots of fine gentlemen, no doubt, but the best ones are battling age and injuries and the worst ones are thrust into too high a role. Last meeting, Matt Moulson equalized after he and Brad Boyes took advantage of inviting gaps offered by Kent Huskins and Bruno Gervais. Tonight Huskins is a game-time decision.
Sounds like Ilya Bryzgalov is in goal, which is separate from his monastic duties. And this is fun, reflective of how the tables have turned: Flyers coverage that bemoans how winning four of their last five hurts their lottery chances.
Keep suggesting places in your locale to watch the Isles during the playoffs. We've had suggestions come in from several states and we'll try to start to put those together into some sort of dedicated thread. Meanwhile, at home the Islanders are holding another viewing party tonight, this one at Buffalo Wild Wings in Farmingdale.
Leave your First Islanders Goal picks in this thread. It's down to the wire at the top.