The Montreal Canadiens are the latest team to make their final (pending playoffs) visit to Nassau Coliseum tonight, with both them and the host New York Islanders coming off losses to the Ottawa Senators.
Programming note: In the States, this game is televised on NBC Sports.
The loss to the Sens hurt the Habs, who are in a lull and have a tougher schedule to finish out the season, with several playoff teams.
Losing to the Sens s hurt the Isles by depriving them of a chance to briefly take over first in the NHL, but more importantly by squandering another game for a team that has fewer games remaining than most other teams in the NHL. (The Ducks, who won last night to retain first overall, are the only other team with 70 games played already.)
Tonight, the big news is in the surprising lineup changes: Ryan Strome looks like he's getting scratched, or "rested" as Frans Nielsen slots back in, but even more surprising: After nearly 70 days in scratch storage, Matt Donovan will be in the Islanders lineup again. It will be just his 10th game of the season.
It's been frustrating, but Donovan said he understands, per Islanders Point Blank:
"I think we have a great defensive core," Donovan said. "There’s a reason I haven’t been playing a lot and that’s because we have a lot of great defensemen. They’ve been playing well."
With the Islanders locking up both Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk to long-term contracts mid-season, the picture of the blueline job competition only gets clearer in a season where Donovan has had so few opportunities to show what he can do. A little more from the team site:
I’m just ready to get back out there and show what I can do. There are a lot of days where you are discouraged and wish you were playing, but I just have to go out there, work as hard as I can and prove to them I can play.
The 38-year-old Lubomir Visnovsky is the one who sits for Donovan, before the Isles travel to visit Chicago Tuesday. So the blueline swap is more of a like-for-like swap than a strategic move against the speedy Canadiens, who have had the Isles' number this season. Visnovsky, who still provides a lot and is interested in staying, is a pending unrestricted free agent.
In addition to more from Donovan, that IPB post has Jack Capuano discussing lineup shuffles and health management in the run up to the playoffs:
"Now you really have to start to plan things as you move forward," Capuano said. "You have a game Tuesday then you don’t play again until Friday. You have to sit down with your trainers and your medical staff, and make sure we’re doing the right things to position ourselves to where we want to be. And making sure we have the health moving forward."
On that note, Nielsen is back in the lineup after a "maintenance day" yesterday. The gap between games this week plus last night's scratch afforded Nielsen three days of rest. No word on whether Strome is managing a malady too, but it sounds like there will be more rotations like this -- outside of the set-in-stone fourth line, of course -- as the season finishes up.
Michal Neuvirth starts in goal after Jaroslav Halak played last night.
- For the visitors, they're coming off a 5-2 loss to those darn Senators -- after opening a 2-0 lead.
- It looks like Sergei Gonchar will sit for surprise AHL recall Greg Pateryn.
- Carey Price is in goal, as always.
- There is frustration in Habs land about whether Michel Therrien maximizes his lineup, or is content to play it conservative and rely on the heroics of Price. Therrien isn't changing.
The Canadiens also bring with them a beloved ol' Isles friend, a man who escaped Madison Square Garden, shed the stench of Ranger and went on to better things:
P.A. Parenteau: "[NVMC] has a special place in my heart…that’s where everything started for me, 1st chance that Cappy & Snowy gave to me"— Dan Savarino (@DanSavarino) March 14, 2015
Former #Isles P.A. Parenteau on JT: "he’s a great player, great kid too. I love that guy...I was a lot older and I learned from him"— Dan Savarino (@DanSavarino) March 14, 2015
Leave your First Islanders Goal picks for tonight over here. Don't choose Visnovsky.