The New York Islanders return from the NHL's Christmas break by visiting the Buffalo Sabres, a franchise with its eyes on a stash of 2015 first-round draft picks even if its players are lately performing like this season matters.
For the Isles, it will be the second straight game without starter Jaroslav Halak and the third with a different goalie. Kevin Poulin, who was called up briefly as backup before the break after spending most of last season with the big club, will get his first NHL start of the season.
Islanders (23-11, 2nd/Metro) @ Sabres (13-19-3, 8th/New Atlantic)
7 p.m. EST | MSG+ | WRHU/WRCN
[bank or insurance or other] Center
Die by the draft picks: Die By The Blade
If you haven't followed the last 24 hours of quasi-drama, oh the minor twists and turns we take as Isles fans: Poulin started in Bridgeport last night, shutting out the Bruins, so his start was taken as a sign he wouldn't be coming up today. But no. He's up, as Halak was put on IR retroactive to Dec. 20.
But not only was Poulin up with the team this morning...he also got his own crease while Halak and Chad Johnson shared the other:
Halak and Johnson sharing a net during #Isles skate, Poulin by himself. Capuano will announce starter after skate.— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) December 27, 2014
Aaand sure enough, Poulin starts tonight after starting at home last night. (Hey, worked for Halak last weekend, right? Sweep!)
Jack Capuano explained:
He’s earned it. He played extremely well in training camp, but it’s a two-part question. The other part is he saw some pucks last night… Last night he played well at home against Providence, but more importantly, he’s a guy who deserves an opportunity.
How well has Poulin played this year? Eric Hornick has The Skinny:
Poulin played in 28 NHL games last season, going 11-16-1 with a 3.29 GAA (89.1 save percentage).
At Bridgeport this season, Poulin has gone 10-6-4. His 2.41 GAA and 92.8 save percentage are his best in the AHL since he had a 2.19 GAA and a 93.2 save percentage in 15 games in 2010-11.
Left unsaid from all this, is whether the Isles' trust in Johnson has been shaken any -- a question that came up after the Isles used Halak back-to-back last weekend -- or if this is just a chance to give the still-young Poulin another dose of hope.
There is also the potentially greater concern of what's wrong with Halak. But considering the number of "maintenance" days he's taken over the last few skates, and the fact he was on the ice this morning, that still sounds like a minor injury that needs, well, maintenance. Capuano spoke of not wanting to rush a guy at this important position.
Certainly both of these questions could be related if indeed the franchise shares fans' worries about Johnson. But that's a string of hypotheticals. All in due time.
Sabres Notes: Grigorenko up, Moulson ready
- Oh, but speaking of playing well in the AHL last night and getting the call up: The Sabres recalled Mikhail Grigorenko after a three-assist night for Rochester last night. They're dealing with injuries to Brian Gionta, Marcus Foligno and Torrey Mitchell.
- Old Isles friend and back-to-back-to-back 30-goal scorer Matt Moulson is in the lineup tonight; that looked doubtful earlier in the week, but it turns out he "only" had the flu -- and not mumps -- last weekend.
- One of our classic posts from last year was Dan's tribute to Moulson after the trade. Goodness, so much has changed in the 14 month since.
- Buffalo will start Jhonas Enroth in goal, the man with the most Star Wars name in the NHL.
Over at Die By The Blade, they peg the lines and pairings like so:
Moulson - Girgensons - Ennis
Deslauriers - Flynn - Stafford
Larsson - McCormick - Kaleta
Hodgson - Grigorenko - Stewart
Ristolainen - Gorges
Zadorov - Meszaros
Weber - Benoit
- How will the power play look after Capuano threatened personnel changes after the loss to the Habs?
- On a scale of "Not Johnson" to "Like Johnson," how will Poulin look?
- What presents did you get for your December holiday of choice? Pictures or it didn't happen.
- Bonus: I played goalie for my pickup game this morning, and my back hurts like hell. How glad am I that I'm not Poulin?
Are the Islanders for Real Though?
Certainly Christmas break signals the big push. It starts now.
The weekend...starts here.
If you look to our game previews for Les Beaver's "pre-gamers," fictional Cappy pep talks with Isles characters that has taken on a life of its own, you'll not want to miss today's special edition, which, if not "life of its own" at least has audio from "real," live people.
Sorry I left this out of the morning thread, but leave your First Islanders Goal picks over here.