The New York Islanders lack a standings case for tonight's contest, but their lineup of rookies does not lack a real-stakes environment in which to impress.
Playing on the second half of a traveling back-to-back (they have one more, in Montreal and New Jersey later this week), the Isles meet a Columbus Blue Jackets squad that is in wild card position and is even within striking distance of a guaranteed Metropolitan Division spot.
Columbus is just two points behind the Philadelphia Flyers with five games to go, and close enough where the regulation/overtime win tiebreaker could matter.
Into this Game That Matters steps the latest rookie to get the call: Scott Mayfield, who makes his NHL debut and will wear #42.
Islanders (31-35-11, 8th/Metro) @ Blue Jackets (39-31-7, 4th/Metro, 2nd/WC)
6 p.m. EDT | MSG+ | WRHU/WRCN
[what if you had a fire and lost everything? what then?] Arena
Ironing their jackets for the playoffs: Jackets Cannon
By rights, even with the Islanders' seven-game points streak, there is no reason to bet on them today: There is the back-to-back, there is the fact they lost top-pair defenseman Calvin de Haan yesterday, and there is the fact their dressing their backup Anders Nilsson, who has just awful numbers despite putting up solid games in his last two starts.
Further, Columbus has everything to play for here -- with a dash of revenge and regret after they laid an egg against the Isles at Nassau Coliseum last week, in what might have been Evgeni Nabokov's final NHL shutout. That time, they were coming off an emotional home loss to Metro rival New York Rangers. This time, they're coming off an emotional final-seconds loss to their former Central tormenter Chicago Blackhawks.
They are without Nathan Horton, who ended up being a healthy contributor for about a month this season. Recent Marian Gaborik trade return and sudden journeyman Matt Frattin will take a turn in his spot on the first line. Via BlueJacketsExtra, coach Todd Richards explains:
Here is Richards' thinking, in the wake of injuries to wingers Nick Foligno and Nathan Horton:
"He's a right-hand shot, No. 1," Richards said. "But just watching him in practice, he's a guy who can shoot the puck. And talking to guys who have seen him play, and (what they've said) he can possibly bring.
"He was fine (vs. Chicago). Even going back to his game in Chicago, when we lost 6-1 ... the thoughts coming out of that game were that he was a smart player, positionally. There were times (early this season) he played with (Jeff) Carter and (Mike) Richards out in (Los Angeles)."
Frattin had been scratched in 10 straight games, and 12 of the previous 13, before Friday, when he played only his third game since joining the Blue Jackets in the deal that sent Marian Gaborik to the Kings.
From 12 scratches to the first line? Something something REAL NHL coach.
For Isles fans, the entertainment here will be in watching the continued auditions of so many rookies in the absence of so many injured players. (Michael Grabner, back for a period after his concussion, is the latest to go down after taking a Mike Green elbow to the nose yesterday.)
Scott Mayfield then enters that fray. It's a little ahead of schedule for the big, bruising 21-year-old, but then he's evolved in his first pro season at Bridgeport -- and besides, there is virtually no one left to recall.
de Haan's injury really puts a wrench in the blueline plans, so it will be interesting to see who the Isles put next to Travis Hamonic. With Hamonic, Mayfield and Matt Carkner all in the same lineup though, the blueline looks more ornery than it has looked since Brendan Witt was decking SUVs.