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New York Islanders vs. St. Louis Blues: The rematch, tilted

The rematch should be tougher, but that's okay if they play more than 20 minutes.

"Strong, determined...controls defensemen."
"Strong, determined...controls defensemen."
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

To channel the memorable Dennis Green, the St. Louis Blues are who we thought they are. And last Saturday, the New York Islanders let them off the hook.

{dramatically punches keyboard}

To be clear, who we thought they are is a very good team -- not a Bears-ian turnover machine. Which makes it sting all the more to have led them 3-0 at home and still lost the game in regulation.

But we've been all over that lately. (Twice, in fact.) Now the Isles have a chance to make amends, but the deck is stacked steeper than it was five days ago.

Islanders (19-9, 2nd/Metro) @ Blues (18-8-2, t-2nd/Central)
8 p.m. EST | MSG+ | WRHU/WRCN
Kiel Center
Arbour's 1st Coaching Gig: STL Game Time

To review:

  • Saturday Alexander Steen was a late scratch, the refs gave the Isles a good deal of first-period favors, and the Blues lost Carl Gunnarsson during the game without even a penalty against Anders Lee.
  • The Blues also did not have Jay Bouwmeester, a key defenseman who comes off IR to rejoin the team tonight.
  • The Isles did not have Eric Boulton, who they will activate to play tonight instead of Cory Conacher, who remains scratched.
  • The Isles were at home, not at [Kiel] Center, where the Blues are 10-3-1.
  • The Isles technically had 40 minutes to exploit Martin Brodeur, but they didn't test him. Tonight they'd have to get to Jake Allen again in order to test Brodeur's five hole, six hole, and geriatric hole.

So yes, this should be more difficult. That's okay though: The Isles at 19-9 have handled plenty of difficult this season, including a road sweep of Los Angeles and Anaheim to end a three-game losing streak. They just haven't managed it well lately. But when you can say that about a team and also say they are tied for the league lead in victories, then you know it's been a good first 29 games. (Unless you're a vocal Isles fan; then everything is wrong.)

Anyway, to continue their 2014 ascent into "really good team" status, the Isles will have to show something on nights like tonight. Learn the lessons from the past two games (Lesson #1: Don't pack it in after 20 good minutes). Meet a really tough team -- a team that Jack Capuano noted, plays a similar way to the Isles -- and prove that you can outmatch them.

They'll need Jaroslav Halak. (He starts.) They'll need some creative line deployment. They'll need to either stay out of the box or magically improve their penalty kill, which failed them in the first game.

Lines and Moves

About the deployment: Josh Bailey is out again with his "nagging" injury. Eric Boulton has been activated from IR (Is this in anticipation of revenge business from last game? Like the Blues looking for blood after Lee's elbow on Gunnarsson?).

Casey Cizikas is still out, so Ryan Strome is charged with trying to keep Boulton and Matt Martin from being sunk in their own zone. If I'm Ken Hitchcock, I try to exploit that. If I'm Jack Capuano, I use them sparingly and only in testosterone-contest moments, then leverage Strome a lot on special teams.

Expect these:

Kulemin - Tavares - Okposo
Grabovski - Nielsen - Clutterbuck
Lee - Nelson - Grabner
Martin - Strome - Boulton

Also, Matt Donovan is in for Griffin Reinhart.

Via the official site, Hitchcock on Tavares:

He’s a very good one-on-one player. He’s very strong on the puck, he’s a guy that’s very determined; a red line-and-in player, a guy with tremendous competitive instincts in tight spaces. He’ll do anything to create offense, he doesn’t care about the number sin front of him. He’s a very strong, determined player. Quite frankly he’s a lot like [Sidney] Crosby. He has a lot of Crosby’s one-on-one puck skills, he’s a smart player.

I don’t think there are more than 10 players in the league that can control defensemen like he can.

That's a lot of praise. But if I'm parsing Hitchcock, I think "red line-and-in player" also connotes not exactly "200-foot player," a phrase he uses a lot.

FIG Picks

Leave your First Islanders Goal picks over yonder. Don't pick Reinhart.