The Sens are on a 8-1-1 surge that provoked unexpected Jim Mora Memorial "playoffs?" talk, including a 5-2 win last night over the Canadiens (who are next on the Isles schedule). But they enter play two slots and seven points behind the Boston Bruins for the East's final wild card spot, so that's not happening. Just as the Sens revived, the Bruins made a similar rebound going 7-1-2 in their last 10, no doubt finally coming to grips with the fact Johnny Boychuk isn't coming back.
The Islanders have lost their last two at home, bringing up a refreshing fact in this final year of Nassau Coliseum (sorry Ed Mangano, but it's true): They haven't lost three home games in a row all season long.
Meanwhile, with a win the Isles would hop right back into first place in the Metropolitan, which has become a tight three-team race.
Of chief importance tonight, Frans Nielsen will be rested tonight for the proverbial "maintenance day." He took a bad landing a few weeks ago and hasn't missed a game since, but his ice time (including practices) has been managed carefully -- including the off day Wednesday and just a "short spin" Thursday, so sitting him for at least one of two games in a 48-hour span is both flag and caution.
Coach Jack Capuano spoke to that more generally in the morning scrum [mp3], in an answer about keeping players healthy before the playoffs:
No question we want to make sure we're healthy. I've been down this road before. When guys are ready to play, they'll play. But if there's lingering effects from an injury, we'll want to take our time. We have some bumps and bruises 'cause we play hard like every other team in this league. So we just want to be cautious, that's all.
With injury comes opportunity, and Ryan Strome will center the second line after spending much of this season on the wing. In past appearances (mostly last season), the Isles worried that Strome was taking the emphasis on the position's defensive responsibility too seriously, limiting his offensive aggression as a result. Given how he's blossomed this year in all facets, it's doubtful that will be the case tonight, and this should be a great opportunity for him to shine.
On Strome's wing will be Michael Grabner, returning to the lineup after a one-game hiatus for not being Tyler Kennedy.
Strome's shift to center breaks up the Kid Line, so Anders Lee and Brock Nelson will have Kennedy on the right instead.
Jaroslav Halak will start in goal.
At the other end, the Andrew Hammond or Craig Anderson debate has been fun, with Hammond having a out-of-nowhere 8-0-1 storybook entry to his NHL career. Coach Dave Cameron wasn't saying who would start tonight. Hammond was in last night.
UPDATE: Hammond starts again.
This is the final meeting of the season, with the Isles sweeping a home-and-home in December.
Leave your First Islanders Goal picks here. Do not pick the Danish Backhand of Judgment, for his time is not now.