With the New York Islanders having a back-to-back this weekend and six games in the 10-day runup to Christmas, there are some changes.
Tonight in Columbus, and perhaps for both games this weekend, Cal Clutterbuck will sit with an upper body injury. In his place on The Best Fourth Line In Hockey(TM) will be Eric Boulton, resurrected from IR for the umpteenth time and special assignment in his Islanders career.
Also changing for tonight is the third pair. Just as Thomas Hickey spoke of finding chemistry with Marek Zidlicky, the 38-year-old (obligatory age reference) Zidlicky will sit tonight in favor of Brian Strait, who last played on Nov. 27 in Florida.
They visit the Blue Jackets tonight to find a struggling team whose fans are exasperated by the year-after-year hope-crushed cycle. Having already essentially sunk their season with that horrible October start, they're currently on a 1-5 skid with the only win against those fellow Metro afterthoughts, the Philadelphia Flyers.
Columbus is without Sergei Bobrovsky, who is on IR. Tonight's expected starter Curtis McElhinney played in their 6-4 loss to Winnipeg.
The Isles will start Jaroslav Halak again, and as noted have Boulton and Strait stepping into their bottom line and pairing, respectively.
These teams' last meeting was a 4-0 win by the Islanders in Columbus that was the final, mere-formality end to the Todd Richards era. So that makes this the first meeting with Islanders fan favorite sideshow John Tortorella.
I have no idea if a Torts team and the bad-team-rally-troops effect that has anything to do with the Isles pulling Boulton out of storage rather than Steve Bernier. It's likely the six games in 10 days before the Christmas break is a factor. Either way, a rare intersection of the Eric Boulton Experience and the Brian Strait Adventure is upon us.
Leave your First Islanders Goal picks here. Don't choose Clutterbuck.
Meanwhile, Elsewhere in the Metro
The 15-10-3 Penguins fired their coaches today. Jim Rutherford is, he's a different bird:
Rutherford: "We have to have more will to win."— Dave Molinari (@MolinariPG) December 12, 2015
Rutherford: "We never know what a coaching change is going to do. ... We do need to get some more production out of some guys."— Dave Molinari (@MolinariPG) December 12, 2015