The New York Islanders' hectic February march is not over, but tonight represents the close of its busiest stretch and the start of a breather of sorts: Tonight's meeting with the Vancouver Canucks is the fifth in seven games and the close of a back-to-back weekend, but it's also the beginning of a four-game homestand to close out the month.
The Isles have one more four-game homestand this season (to close out March), but the official site notes this is the only time they've had to play five games in seven days. The Isles are 7-3-1 so far this month.
In yesterday's shootout loss in Washington, Chad Johnson played quite well and Brian Strait was, well, he was who most of us think he is. Today the usual starter Jaroslav Halak slots back in, while Lubomir Visnovsky comes back into the lineup for Strait.
That means the D pairings will return to normal, per Jack Capuano's morning scrum [mp3].
Also, Halak is going for sole possession of the Islanders franchise record for most wins in a season by a goalie.
Jack Capuano was asked about Kael Mouillierat, who made his NHL debut yesterday at age 27:
"He played extremely well. Coming out of training camp I knew he played sound defensive hockey down the middle, won some key draws for us. With the system we play he's a good fit for us. On the other side I thought he had good offensive zone time last night, protected the puck down low, did a lot of good things."
With Casey Cizikas eligible to come off IR before the next game, it could be a short callup -- and it's under "emergency" conditions -- for Mouillierat. But you never know when he might be needed down the stretch or in the playoffs, so this is at least one more chance for him to make a good impression.
The Canucks are also on a busy stretch, and tonight is the third game in four nights for the Metro part of their five-game eastern road trip. They beat the Rangers in a shootout on Thursday night but lost the following night in New Jersey, 4-2. As we noted before the Isles loss in Vancouver in January, the Canucks have maintained their standing by avoiding losing streaks. Outside of a five-game slump in December, they've rarely lost even two in a row this season.
For the season, the Canucks were expected by many to continue to recede away from the team that was so close to a Stanley Cup just a few years (and many goalies) ago. Instead, they've been a good team most of this season and are a threat to return to the playoffs. However, unlike the East, the West's playoff bubble is a crowded one, and the Canuck's current second-place and home-ice spot in the Pacific is just a point above those on the outside.
Tonight, Ryan Miller is expected in goal. With Alex Burrows hurt, Nicklas Jensen was recalled from Utica. He'll no doubt want to say hello to fellow Herning, Denmark, native Frans Nielsen.
Leave your First Islanders Goal picks for tonight here. Don't pick Strait.