The Los Angeles Kings need to keep winning to pull back into a playoff spot and avoid the '96 Devils' fate. The New York Islanders need to keep -- er, resume -- winning to hang on to home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
In Maslow's hierarchy of hockey desperation, these are on completely different tiers.
The Kings have opened a five-game road trip by blowing through two of the Metro's three metro teams. The Isles will need to offer greater resistance than the previous two, the recent victims of the Kings' Stanley Cup triumphs who did little to argue that history got it wrong.
These contrasting stakes lead to different, occasionally bizarre, comments from the coaches. First, the bizarre -- or misdirecting -- from Darryl Sutter:
"It's more difficult to make the [Stanley Cup] playoffs in this League than it is to win the Stanley Cup," Sutter said.
There is basically zero context, lens or angle in which this is true. But whatever. Coaches gotta coachspeak.
Then there is this from Jack Capuano, making a more traditional point about the playoffs, especially if the Isles face certain teams this spring:
"This is a big, physical team that we are playing tonight," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said of the Kings. "Stanley Cup champions. Kind of get a blueprint of what the playoffs are going to look like when you play a team like this. So this is a good challenge for our young guys and some guys who want to try and stay in the lineup."
This is what the Metro's previous two
sacrificial lambs entrants to the Stanley Cup finals learned when they faced the Kings: You have not just a good, well-coached team, but a large one that wears you down as well. To some extent that's true in any playoff contest, but the Kings and several of the West's other better teams double down on that approach.
The Isles would face a (lesser) version of that with the Bruins or the Capitals, but they're probably going to face the Penguins instead. In that case, the bad blood will breed its own flavor of physical venom.
We can only hope they'll last long enough to find out about the West.
One quasi-bright spot: It was on a trip through California that the Islanders kept their season from taking on a "here we go again" feel. The Islanders' November sweep of the Ducks and Kings required extra time and was hardly dominant, but it was an example of them cutting down on chances against and returning to the play that would serve them well throughout this season, rather than the dip that made fans dread November year after year.
As the Isles face a series of tough Western teams this week, we can take some consolation in how they approached the first one: Despite losing via shootout to the Wild on Tuesday, they opened that game looking like the team at their best, barely letting the Wild sniff the puck and forcing Devan Dubnyk to keep Minnesota in the game.
Tonight, they'll need more of the same. They remain just two points ahead of the Penguins, who play in Carolina tonight and have a game in hand.
But of course, the opponent needs these points more: The Kings are one point behind their division mates in Calgary and two points behind the Jets for the wild card.
- Jaroslav Halak starts in goal again, and the lines and pairings are expected to be the same as Tuesday.
- We're not going to talk about the penalty kill.
Quotes of the Morning
More good stuff from Sutter, via LA Kings Insider:
the depth of [the Islanders] is pretty significant in the league when you look at the production that they get from guys who don’t get a lot of credit. [Reporter: How about slowing down their speed, what do you guys do?] Well, we’re a fast team, too. You can’t slow speed down, otherwise you go sit in the little box over there.
And also, on his "final"(?) visit to the Coliseum:
"Well, maybe not. [Reporter: Maybe not.] It’s a great old building. Actually I don’t have great memories here because of those guys, that team there. But it was always good for me coming here obviously because either one or two of my brothers were here, so it wasn’t necessarily the game, it was being able to come here. I probably learned a lot as a young player watching this team. And it’s always good, quite honest, the respect that I have for Bill Torrey and Al Arbour, being able to see Mr. Torrey. I went out for dinner with him in Florida a couple weeks ago, so that’s special."
Leave your First Islanders Goal picks over here. Don't choose Palffy.