As the New York Islanders visit the Detroit Red Wings for an early afternoon start, they bring with them likely lineup changes. Of biggest importance, Lubomir Visnovsky has been activated from injured reserve, meaning the Isles can expect their ideal grouping of six on defense.
But an injury of the "banged up" variety on the fourth line could have a trickle effect on the bottom three lines: Casey Cizikas hobbled off the ice twice in Thursday's loss to the Bruins, then took Friday's practice off with a "maintenance" day, so his place is in jeopardy for today's game.
Islanders (32-15-1, 1st/Metro) @ Red Wings (28-12-9, t-2nd/New Atlantic)
2 p.m. EST | MSG+ | WRHU/WRCN
Joe Louis [satisfyingly unsponsored] Arena
Just Winging it: In Motown
Though Cizikas was traveling with the team for this trip, the Isles recalled Colin McDonald on emergency conditions just in case. That yielded these lines at Friday's practice:
Obviously if Cizikas can't go, the Isles' preference remains to have jack-of-all-trades Ryan Strome slide from wing to center, where he makes gourmet meals with any linemate you throw at him. But you can see this alignment moves Nikolay Kulemin to Strome's recent spot, and McDonald up to where Kulemin had been.
As always, game time decision pending, and conditions can change, etc.
McDonald, 30, has adjusted to his return to the AHL as well as can be expected. That great Newsday interview with him (was in the morning links) provided insight into that experience:
"I think sometimes it's easy to go down with a bad attitude and feel sorry for yourself. It's not going to get you anywhere at the end of the day. It took me about a week or so to kind of get my mind right. After that, it was good. I had a good relationship with the coaches down there. I really can't complain. It was a good situation."
The biggest standout in this matchup, other than them being two top teams in the East, is the special teams disparity: 49 games into the season, Detroit's power play is still converting at a 25% clip. Almost unbelievably, 48 games into the season the Islanders penalty kill has only killed 73.7% of opponents' power plays, tied with Buffalo -- Buffalo! -- for last overall.
Right now that looks like the biggest threat standing between the Isles and a decent bet on a long playoff run.
On the other wise, meanwhile: If you thought Thursday's not-bad-actually loss to the Bruins was a bummer, you've got nothing on what Wings fans saw when Detroit was trounced 5-1 by Tampa. Winging it in Motown has it down to bad habits, an alarmingly regular "softie" past Petr Mrazek, and the Lightning's "downright terrifying" team speed.
So yeah, attack with speed. The Isles are good at that. These are two Eastern powers ("powers"? Jeez, yes, nearly 50 games in we can comfortably say "powers" now) looking to rebound from losses.
May the faster team win.
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