The New York Islanders register their second of three* one-off road trips (*four if you count Newark) tonight in Columbus, where the league's eyes are watching because of one ominous story, captured nicely in the Dispatch here and already familiar to those checking out the standings:
Today is the 49th birthday of Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards, and he spent part of it answering questions pertaining to his precarious position as the coach of an 0-6 hockey team and the whirlwind of doubt that surrounds it.
Whatever you think of a coach, a team, or its players, this is not a fun situation to be in. And here we are as Islanders fans hoping it only gets worse for the coach and his players, at least for tonight*:
They know where we're at and they know the hole that we're in. And it bothers them. You can see it. It bothers them to a point where it has a negative effect. What I mean by that is that pressure and the feeling, it drains their energy. That's another thing you're combating.
Tonight, yes. But we'd hate for the Blue Jackets to break the Rangers' 1943-44 record of 11 consecutive losses to begin a season. After tonight, the Jackets hit the road for four. There is a school of thought that such a trip would be a great time to integrate a new leader.
The rest of the details for tonight are familiar. Same lineup including starting goalie Jaroslav Halak for the Islanders. Mostly the lineup including backup goalie Curtis McElhinney for the Blue Jackets, but Alex Wennberg comes off IR and Cam Atkinson sits. Former Vezina man Sergei Bobrovsky sits again amid his "zero" confidence. At 0-6, everything feels like a steamroll.
So of course there are trappings:
"I'm not looking at their record at all," Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic said. "For me as a defenseman, they have so many forwards that can really hurt you."
Per the Dispatch, here are the lines Columbus will use to try to snap out of it:
F1: Boone Jenner-Ryan Johansen-Nick Foligno
F2: Scott Hartnell-Alexander Wennberg-Brandon Saad
F3: Matt Calvert-Brandon Dubinsky-David Clarkson
F4: William Karlsson-Gregory Campbell-Rene Bourque
D1: Jack Johnson-David Savard
D2: Ryan Murray-Cody Goloubef
D3: Fedor Tyutin-Dalton Prout
The Isles are as they were:
Anders Lee - John Tavares - Ryan Strome
Josh Bailey - Frans Nielsen - Kyle Okposo
Nikolay Kulemin - Mikhail Grabovski - Brock Nelson
Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas - Cal Clutterbuck
Nick Leddy - Johnny Boychuk
Calvin de Haan - Travis Hamonic
Thomas Hickey - Marek Zidlicky
Beyond the ax that many figure is hanging over Richards, tonight's narratives include the Blue Jackets' 9-1-1-1 all-time record against the Isles in Columbus, and the Isles' need to comeback after disturbingly sluggish starts the last two games.
On the one hand, you'd hope this opponent would be ripe to jump on from the beginning. On the other hand, if the Isles come out flat and fall behind again...who better to overturn than the shaken-confidence Metro basement dwellers?