The New York Islanders' merry band of possession cretins continues its road tour into Alberta this weekend, with a stop in Calgary tonight and Edmonton on Sunday.
After the Flames' surprisingly hot and tenacious start to the season, many thought reality had finally arrived when they lost eight in a row last month, seven of them in regulation. However, they were unaware that was supposed to be their death knell: Since then, they've won four in a row -- and while two of them were gimmes against the LOilers, the other two were against the Los Angeles Kings.
The Flames thus far have appeared to be greater than the sum of their parts: Picked to flounder again this season, they've been good, better than their underlying stats with a never-say-die attitude that has fed comeback wins rather than "well, we suck anyway" fades once they fall behind.
Islanders (25-11-1, t-1st/Metro) @ Flames (21-15-3, t-3rd/Pacific)
9 p.m. EST | MSG+2 (Where?!) | WRHU/WRCN
Fiery opposition: Matchsticks & Gasoline
In goal, it's Jaroslav Halak versus Jonas Hiller.
The Flames have what was viewed as a smart offseason signing in Mason Raymond...but have not been using him lately. With some line shuffling on New Year's Eve they last looked like this:
Gaudreau - Jooris - Hudler
Glencross - Monahan - Colborne
Bouma - Granlund - Byron
Bollig - Stajan - Jones
Giordano - Brodie
Russell - Wideman
Engelland - Diaz
But they've also shown this:
13 Johnny Gaudreau - 60 Markus Granlund - 24 Jiri Hudler
20 Curtis Glencross - 23 Sean Monahan - 19 David Jones
8 Joe Colborne - 86 Josh Jooris - 32 Paul Byron
25 Brandon Bollig - 18 Matt Stajan - 17 Lance Bouma
So their look could go any number of ways. For the Isles, expect Josh Bailey to remain on the first line and Frans Nielsen to remain between the two kids, Ryan Strome and Anders Lee. That's been working okay.
If you don't know Johnny Gaudreau, you'll remember him after tonight. The diminutive rookie has people forgetting about his size and more on his 30 points (12-18) in 38 games. He and center Josh Jorris' nine goals are a big reason the Flames have the most goals from rookies out of any team in the NHL.
And that's before getting to their backline, where Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie are a peanut-butter-and-jelly kind of pairing, with 60 points between them.
The Flames believe they know what they're getting in the Isles. Bob Hartley from the team's official site:
"I've watched many games and they play the same way. They're not scared, they don't sit back and they rely on three lines that score lots of goals.
"Right now they're a confident group and whether you play at home or on the road they're game doesn't change."
And Hartley's pre-scout has filtered to the players:
"They’re one of the best in the League," Mark Giordano stated. "We don’t play them a lot but it looks like a very talented group. They have three lines that are scoring lines basically and then they have a really good fourth line as well. It’s going to be a tough test for us."
Test them, Isles, test them!
A Most Interesting Gaudreau/Cronin Factoid
From the Isles official site, an interesting detail about the Isles assistant coach and the Flames' hot rookie:
Islanders Assistant Coach Greg Cronin recruited Johnny Gaudreau to play at Northeastern University when Cronin was the head coach. Gaudreau committed to Northeastern until Cronin left to take a job with the Toronto Maple Leafs, so Gaudreau decommitted to play at Boston College.
Gaudreau: It was his attitude towards the game. He’s a pretty outgoing guy, talks a lot, but is tough on his players. I was pretty excited about going there and learning from him, but unfortunately he left to go coach the Maple Leafs. I thought it was best to leave and try new options.
Gaudreau ended up at Boston College, where he scored 80 points in 40 games in 2013-14 before turning pro.
Pinch Me, and I Dreaming?
Still getting used to reading things like this, honestly:
The Islanders are really strong, and with their mix of size and speed, they're another good example for the Flames to look towards in terms of how to build a team model properly.
Leave your First Islanders Goal picks here.