The New York Islanders are in Sunrise, Florida, tonight for the first half of a back-to-back swing with the Panthers and (tomorrow) the Lightning. After a strong start under Gerard Gallant, the Panthers have lost three straight and nine of 12 and already surrounded by talk of "daunting playoff odds" thanks to the If Not By U.S. Thanksgiving magical theory that has already gained a little too much attention.
For the Isles, the big focus is the "new" guy.
Ryan Strome has returned from his three-week banishment to AHL Bridgeport, where he tallied two goals and two assists in eight games. (His current fellow teammate with the Isles, defenseman Adam Pelech, also has the same total in 14 games for the Sound Tigers. That's not relevant at all but it's a lot of 2's and 4's so there.)
So the morning skate quotebook from the official site overfloweth:
"I settled down a little bit, got my feet under me and got back to the basics," Strome said. "I really wanted to become better out of it, it really helped me."
"One of the biggest motivators were the guys here," Strome continued. "I didn’t expect anyone to reach out and call me, so that really meant the world to me. Obviously my family was so helpful and the coaches down there were really, really good with me as well and deserve a lot of credit as well."
So that's cool. Everyone's pulling for him (fans included). The decision to send him down was, for fans at least, controversial. Beyond just slumping in the numbers department, the evidence showed Strome was not being as effective as expected in even generating shots, nor preventing them.
Some ascribe that to being on the wing, though of course he played plenty of wing while excelling last year. (The big roster change this season has been moving Mikhail Grabovski back to full-time center, where Brock Nelson spent much time last season centering Strome and Anders Lee on the "Kid Line.")
The coaching staff, as they are wont to do, ascribed it to poor play without the puck:
"We want to see him add some offense, but at the same time, it’s the ability to play without the puck," Capuano said. "You’re going to get your chances offensively, but the willingness to block shots, pay the price and play a 200-foot game. He’s going to get his chances on one of the pp units, but it’s engaging, it’s moving your feet and being in constant motion. It’s doing the things that we want to do as a hockey team and playing fast, but part of that is playing physical as well."
At the time of his demotion, the mix of Strome emotions included acknowledging that perhaps he's someone who does need a kick in the pants now and then. I hope the above doesn't translate into trying to throw checks left and right to impress the "play physical" coaches, but certainly the age old cliche of "battle level" -- i.e. engaging for every puck rather than watching and hoping to anticipate -- applies here.
Anyway, it sounds like Strome will be featured on the power play, which has struggled mightily lately. For a team that routinely rolls three and almost always four lines, it's good for a talented player like Strome to get a few extra minutes via special teams.
Hopefully he shines, and this is all forgotten until it is brought up as Exhibit D during The Great Internet Debate Over Michael Dal Colle's Demotion 2017.
- Strome will replace Steve Bernier on wing next to Grabovski and Nikolay Kulemin. Those guys can make anyone look good. Hopefully Strome finds chemistry with them.
- Jaroslav Halak starts in goal again. The defense remains the same (so, Pelech sits, Thomas Hickey not back yet).
- Future Hall of Famer Roberto Luongo starts for the Panthers. Man, to think...
- Fellow former Isle Al Montoya is his backup.
- Jaromir Jagr has a point in each of his last four games, which is pretty much how his entire career has gone.
- The Panthers are without Dmitry Kulikov, who is on IR. Dave Bolland is a healthy scratch and owner of, man, if only the Leafs had signed that contract.
Leave your First Islanders Goal picks by 7:30 over here.