The New York Islanders open a seven-game road string against the Winnipeg Jets, who are without Evander Kane. Alas, that didn't matter last time these teams met, early in the season with the Isles having a chance to go to what would have been 7-1.
Instead, the Isles were sloppy and outplayed, and a couple of quick second-period goals to tie it at 3-3 could not mask what ended up as a quite deserved 4-3 loss. They had a good record but had been doing some bad things with the puck, and this along with the daunting trip out West was a wakeup call to "the way we need to play."
Tonight the Isles get a chance to make amends on New Year's Eve, though against a good Jets team that has charged onward despite a rash of injuries.
Islanders (24-11-1, t-1st/Metro) @ Jets (19-11-7, 4th/Central)
5 p.m. EST | MSG+ | WRHU/WRCN
Bringing Arctic Air to the States: Arctic Ice Hockey
The Jets have grabbed points in 13 of their last 15 despite a list of wounded that includes key defensemen Zach Bogosian, Tobias Enstrom and Jacob Trouba. Dustin Byfuglien has gone back to defense -- and thrived -- to make up for the carnage.
In his 30 Thoughts column, Elliotte Friedman had some insights from the Jets on how they are gutting through their injury crisis:
"The one thing we want to know," captain Andrew Ladd said Sunday, "is are we still competing even though we may not be sharp? If the passes are not on the tape or the shots not on net, can we will our way to a win? There’s a calmness on the bench, a sense of confidence that if we stick to the system, we can break things open and not worry about trying to win on one play."
21. Ladd added that when the blueliners started going down, coach Paul Maurice put it on the forwards to make sure team defence didn’t fall apart. In the offensive zone, Maurice demanded the forwards "reload" properly. Every team’s terminology is different, but the Jets like their defencemen to be aggressive in that area, so two forwards must be ready to cover.
Out of their own zone, Maurice told them they get into the most trouble when they just chip it out. "Instead, he wants us to make a confident play," Ladd said. "Not forcing anything, just a simple play that puts us in a good spot."
One thing that could fall in the Islanders' favor tonight is that the Jets will sit Michael Hutchinson, who has had a fantastic rookie season after the former INXS singer impressively switched careers and rose from the dead. Instead of his .937 in 15 games thus far, the Isles will see Ondrej Pavelec and his near-career-high .913 in 25 games.
The Jets are now 37-23-12 since Paul Maurice took over as coach last season. They have long had a dangerous roster, but in the past Pavelec has done little to help carry it. This year he's been better and so has his backup.
Plus, the team is clearly doing something right under Maurice, and injuries have not kept them from what is currently a playoff position in the tough Central Division.
New Year's Eve
In one of those trivial but nonetheless entertaining factoids, the Islanders have won their last three New Year's Eve games:
- Last year the Islanders came back on the Bruins in Boston for a 5-3 win that surely got Jack Edwards to pontificate about something or other.
- The year before they ... oh, that.
- At the end of 2011 they spanked the Oilers 4-1 and took advantage of Ben Eager being Ben Eager.
- And they closed 2010 by beating the Red Wings in Detroit, 4-3 on a P.A. Parenteau OT winner, a game they had no business winning, but as we should all know, hockey if funny that way.
Jiggs in the Booth
Including tonight, this road trip takes them onward to Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver, all with classic announcer Jiggs McDonald filling in for Howie Rose. A happy new year indeed.
Tavares is Cool
You might remember last year, when John Tavares heard about a Winnipeg kid being bullied for wearing a Tavares jersey to the game. Tavares made sure he received a signed jersey and other gestures, with a promise to meet him in person next time the Isles came through town.
Well, it's next time:
Leave your First Islanders Goal picks -- and get them in by faceoff at 5 p.m. EST -- over here.
And please ring in the New Year happily, safely, and victoriously.