The New York Islanders have won six of their last seven games and their special teams have been on fire, so they aren't looking to change much when the Metro afterthoughts Carolina Hurricanes visit Thursday night.
However, Jaroslav Halak is under the weather, so he won't even be dressed as the Isles put J-F Berube on the bench to back up Thomas Greiss. Greiss is off to a fantastic start in his Islanders career, with a .932 overall save percentage and 3-0-1 record in his first four starts.
Other than the goal crease, the Isles lineup is unchanged.
7 p.m. EDT | MSG+, buncha radio
Brooklyn's [ingloriously sponsored] Center
At the opposite end is Eddie Lack, the former Roberto Luongo runningmate in Vancouver who was brought in over the summer to push incumbent Cam Ward. The Hurricanes have worked with both goalies to improve their stickhandling:
Since joining the Hurricanes coaching staff, goaltending coach David Marcoux has worked closely with Cam Ward and now Eddie Lack to fine-tune their stick handling abilities – more so for playing the puck behind the net and helping to start a rush up the ice, but we’ve already seen this work pay dividends in the new overtime format.
One footnote for tonight is the Islanders' first look at hotshot 18-year-old rookie Noah Hanifin. Though he was scratched for the first time last game, he's expected to play tonight. He has impressed thus far:
Hanifin has skated in eight of the Hurricanes’ nine games this season, already posting two assists. Much more wise and mature than you might expect an 18-year-old to be, he’s been steady and reliable on the back-end. On Tuesday night’s FOX Sports Carolinas telecast, assistant coach Steve Smith praised Hanifin’s character and work ethic.
The rookie defenseman got his first breather of the season on Tuesday night in Detroit, a chance for him to take in the game from a different angle and, as head coach Bill Peters said, "freshen up."
Coach Bill Peters had immense praise for Hanifin. Via the Isles official site:
"I’ve liked everything about him, I enjoy his game immensely, I think he’s a real good player and will be a star in this league… He can be more physical. He can be a guy who is dynamic when he skates and moves his feet. He’s a real good puck-moving D… I guarantee he stays with the club. For me, he’s an NHL defenseman."
With Hanifin on the scene and doing well, the Canes can better afford the season-wrecking knee injury to James Wisniewski. What a journey that guy has taken around the league.
Team Speed, It's a Thing
You know what else Peters had praise for? The Islanders' speed:
"Good team, deep team, they don’t give up much. I like a lot of their pieces, they are getting good goaltending right now. They move the puck. They play with a lot of puck speed, foot speed, gap speed. Good opponent. Real good team."
Occasionally I get questions from people who go over the Isles roster and think, "there aren't many speedy players, why do people talk like they're fast?" The answer I usually give is it's not the foot speed -- though several players are more mobile than they're conventionally given credit for -- but the speed of puck movement and decision-making.
As they say in soccer, the ball can travel a lot faster than you can. The Isles tend to base their structural emphasis around that also applying to the puck.
But don't take it from me. Take it from a coach who has to try to defend against them.
Before the season, many would have Carolina, New Jersey and Philadelphia at the bottom of the Metropolitan Division while the Isles, Rangers, Capitals, Penguins and Blue Jackets fight for three to five playoff spots. So far the Blue Jackets are the only ones who have completely disobeyed that script, though it is of course still early and both Pennsylvania teams are at 10 points in a "meh" zone.
The Hurricanes, however, are 3-6. A regulation loss tonight would leave them nine points behind the Isles just 10 games into the season. That's how many expected things to go, and yet that's why they play the games: Two of the Hurricanes' three wins this season have come in Detroit.
Leave your First Islanders Goal picks for tonight here.