After their first three-day break in the game schedule since the western road trip in early November, the New York Islanders are back on the ice tonight for a back-to-back against two of the East's top teams.
If you haven't paid attention to the Wings, or if you think they are all in the retirement home, think again: The team has the same amount of points yet fewer regulation losses than the Isles, and could arguably be even better off if they had some of the Isles' undefeated extra-time luck. The Wings are 1-6 in shootouts in 3-8 in extra time overall.
Though their high-end talent is not as great as their glory years, they have only gotten stingier and better at shot suppression.
The Isles take the ice with a different look from when you last saw them -- and no, that has nothing to do with the NHL's holiday trade freeze that begins tonight.
Both Travis Hamonic and Johnny Boychuk return, officially activated from IR this morning. In anticipation of those moves, Griffin Reinhart had been returned to Bridgeport, while Michael Grabner returned to IR with a lower body injury.
Meanwhile, on the top line, a new look that was teased at the beginning of the week: Josh Bailey is the latest to take a turn on John Tavares and Kyle Okposo's left wing. He is less physical than Nikolay Kulemin, but similarly defensively conscientious -- which may be part of his frustrating tendency to not shoot.
But the famous "flashes of Bailey" we've seen in his six years with the club have often come with Okposo and occasionally in rare power play combos with Tavares. We'll see how it goes. The Islanders' depth means they have the luxury of trying these things without needing that line to carry the weight.
Jaroslav Halak and Jimmy Howard are the starting goalies.
Welcome Back, Rightys
For a bit, the Isles were missing all three primary right-side defensemen. (Left-shooting Lubomir Visnovsky prefers the right side.) Now all three are back.
Thomas Hickey says that's nice:
When you have guys who are left-handed playing the right side, or vice versa, you don’t see the ice as well. It’s tougher to get your head up and get around the puck and look. Face-offs are a big part of it, less one timer opportunities, less chances to clear the puck off the penalty kill. Just little things that are hard to tell, just the angles of the game, it’s a lot different.
Coveting Our Goods
As noted, the Red Wings have had a resurgence this season, with coach Mike Babcock even saying it's his best team since the 2009 Cup finalists. That doesn't mean he doesn't still want more nice things though:
Babcock wants his team to play "heavier." Credited what #Isles Anders Lee does. "Frees up space for everyone else...we need guys like that"— Dan Savarino (@DanSavarino) December 19, 2014
See the Wings' expected lines at Winging It In Motown.
NHL.com on Okposo
After Kyle Okposo's theoretical "breakout" year last season, his numbers have not taken off this season. NHL.com wrote about that in its Super 16 column:
It's almost exactly in line with seasons prior to 2013-14 (along with his other shooting spike in 2010-11). The problem is, he wasn't playing with one of the best players in the world in those years, but he is now.
Well, actually a lot of the time he was playing with Tavares then too, though not always so regularly. It's an interesting conundrum for the Isles. There seems to be an elusive "perfect" fit of complementary parts -- one they saw briefly with Thomas Vanek, though the overall defense from that trio was still suspect -- but the Isles haven't found it yet.
Leave your First Islanders Goal picks for tonight here.