The New York Islanders welcome the Edmonton Oilers to Nassau Coliseum for the last time tonight, with hope for a payback after the Isles laid an egg in Alberta early in 2015. The Oilers played last night -- a remarkably uneventful regulation win in New Jersey -- and are one of the few bad teams that have taken two points from the Islanders this season.
The Isles will bring the same lineup as in their 3-2 win in Buffalo (speaking of bad teams that have taken points from the Isles this season), with Cal Clutterbuck and Michael Grabner remaining hurt but "not serious," and Calvin de Haan continuing to mend a cut to his face after a skate hit that and (thankfully) his visor. Jaroslav Halak is in goal again.
The Oilers are without Taylor Hall -- now expected out for a tank-friendly six weeks -- as well as Benoit Pouliot, a useful if heavily compensated forward. A "tweaked" Ben Scrivens means Viktor Fasth is to start in goal for the team which has the fewest victories (15) in the NHL.
All of this plus the Isles' eight-game Coliseum winning streak over the Oilers points to the likelihood for a win...as well as the recipe for us saying, "Ugh, that's why they play the games" afterward.
Checking in on the Endless Rebuild
I've followed the Oilers with keen interest over the last seven years, in part because those cursed with writing about them do it so entertainingly well, and in part because the histories of the organizations have parallels that go from '80s Coliseum-supported Cup wins on to post-lockout II rebuilds.
Of course, with each passing season, the differences in those two rebuilds has become apparent. The Oilers were blessed with an owner willing to spend tons but a management that never seemed to figure out how to spend it. The Islanders had either an owner unwilling to spend in a dead-end arena situation or a management who was unwilling to spend it on just anyone.
The pace and approach of the Isles' rebuild has been the topic of debate for many of the last six years, particularly after the 2013 playoffs were followed by last season's setback. But it's fair to say things have generally trended upward, in contrast to the stop-start-stop pattern in Edmonton.
The Islanders' 2014 acquisitions of Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolay Kulemin via free agency and Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy via salary cap leverage are precisely the kind of depth moves we've been clamoring for, though they probably wouldn't ever have had the desired effect if another clamored-for move, that of a goaltending upgrade, weren't also secured last summer.
For any critique of a team management situation, it's easier to express desire than to execute. So at least some of the previous goaltending possibilities (Ray Emery here, Anders Lindback there) were undesirable because goalie evaluation is sorcery. But it's an issue that held the team back.
Mercifully, the Isles addressed all of the above just as their much-admired prospect pipeline was producing above-average NHL-ready players like Brock Nelson, Ryan Strome and Anders Lee, who join some astute waiver prizes like Michael Grabner and Thomas Hickey. That's how you have a non-playoff team last year putting up performances among the league's elite, especially if you don't think of
an elephant the penalty kill.
Leave your First Islanders Goal picks here. Don't pick Clutterbuck.