According NHL officials, most Islanders players are not at Verizon Center yet, stuck in traffic due to Obama motorcade #CapitalsTalk— Jill Sorenson (@JillCSN) April 23, 2015
Well, they're almost set.
The remaining Islanders have arrived at Verizon Center #CapitalsTalk— Jill Sorenson (@JillCSN) April 23, 2015
Okay, where were we? Ah yes, Game 5. There are changes. And keys. (Well, we'll call them "themes," as "keys" are inevitably what actually turned out to be important -- often related to scoring more goals than the other guys -- but we aren't clairvoyant so we'll just weigh the discussion themes.)
It Would Be Good if the Power Play Scored.
It hasn't scored yet in the series, going 0-for-10, and eliciting all kinds of intelligent comments in social media. It definitely needs a tweak. Then again, it's not solely to blame because...
It Would Be Good if the Penalty Kill Continued to Be Good.
Not that the Isles have been short that often, but the PK -- which was so awful through most of the season -- has killed six of seven Capitals opportunities. Pinch yourself, knock on wood, that would be good to continue. In fact, I'd trade zero power play goals for zero allowed, because the Isles have generally been better at 5-on-5.
There Are Lineup Changes.
Before the game, we knew that:
- A young defenseman will be in for Lubomir Visnovsky.
- Mikhail Grabovski will be in for...someone.
We didn't know the other "whoms" in either case -- not even whether Grabovski, who hasn't played a game since February, would be in at center or wing. Coach Jack Capuano said both Griffin Reinhart and Ryan Pulock would be in the pre-game warmup, when a decision would be made.
Sorry, Matt Donovan. :(
Anyway, there were guesses:
Nelson still on ice, Lee and Kennedy already off. Looks like Grabovski in for Nelson.— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) April 23, 2015
Pulock stayed on with the scratches for extra work, so I'd expect Reinhart to get the call tonight.— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) April 23, 2015
Of course Staple, the Newsday beatwriter covering the Islanders, has guessed wrong before -- this is a "we'd rather leave you guys guessing" situation, but his tea leaves-reading credentials are strong.
If he's right and Nelson is the one coming out, then you can expect Grabovski at center. Which is nice. He's fast. And good. And responsible.
If he's wrong about the defense, then Pulock would theoretically help the power play. I doubt the Isles throw him into the fire so soon though. Capuano sounded like it was "interesting" to consider, but not something he'd do yet (maybe not on the road?).
He was more forthcoming about Grabovski:
He brings speed, deception and can back off the opposition with his speed… He’s a guy that’s played in some big games before. He’ll be excited to play. Obviously when you haven’t played in a while there’s always the timing issue as we saw when Kyle came back. But he’s practiced a little longer than Kyle has and he’s battled hard for us and he’s going to get that opportunity. For me, he deserves the opportunity.
Other changes? Who knows. But doubt it.
Finally: The Wilson Drama from the Visnovsky Hit
This is a big deal in that the Isles lost a key, beloved, good defenseman in Lubomir Visnovsky, and it's unfortunate it comes via the NHL's willingness to let brains be scrambled because hockey. It basically sucks in a lot of ways for a lot of people.
And it's made great fodder for media getting quotes from both sides under the intensified microscope of a playoff series. (If this were the regular season, we'd already be on to a new opponent, probably in Columbus on a Tuesday or something.)
But ultimately on the ice it means the Isles need to work in a new defenseman. As to whether they will be mentally "rattled" or whether Tom Wilson is "in their head," that's a warranted concern but I doubt it. If it were going to rattle them, you'd expect it to have had an immediate effect in Game 4 when it happened. But the Islanders focus then continued uninterrupted, and their public comments since have all been about playing disciplined and sticking to their "identity."
I doubt the emotional baggage from that hit becomes a factor in Game 5 unless the score gets out of hand.
The on-ice baggage, however, depends on the performance of Visnovsky's young replacement. Speaking of which, Reinhart said:
Ever since I came up, I’ve been waiting for the opportunity. It’s unfortunate that it had to happen like this, but whether I get to play tonight or another time this series, I’m really excited and I think I’m ready for it.
Leave your First Islanders Goal picks for tonight here.