The New York Islanders' last game, a shootout loss in Columbus, was just fine so everything is the same tonight as the Sabres makes their final visit Nassau Coliseum.
(Ducks for daily litany of fan lineup complaints to resume.)
Lineup selection, or not-optimizing-the-lineup selection, has been the hot topic among Isles fans for a month or more as players have returned to health and the Isles have had multiple post-deadline extras to juggle.
So while their full degree of health is never clear to the public, it's difficult to see players like Calvin de Haan and Michael Grabner on the sidelines yet again, while Eric Boulton (who provides "emotion on the bench" and scored in Thursday's game, but was also in the familiar line-hemmed-in situation on a goal against) and Brian Strait (who was part of a successful 4-on-3 penalty kill in OT, but also continues to be Brian Strait) get repeated runs.
But that's where we are with the Islanders as of April 2015. No one knows yet what lineup Jack Capuano will go with in the playoffs, but many anxiously fear it will be some version of "my Bossy no, not that."
Meanwhile, hockey tonight at the Coliseum. Several Isles favorites from history return. Matt Moulson (ill) is not among them. No matter who plays, the Isles need these points in the race for home ice in the first round.
Sabres (22-48-8, bottomus/NHL) @ Islanders (45-27-6, 3rd/Metro)
7 p.m. EDT | MSG+ | WRHU
Nassau [gloriously unsponsored] Veterans Memorial Coliseum
McDeichel Watch: Die by the Blade
As noted, the lineup is the same as Thursday. That means all the favorite fan whipping boys are in. And for my money their third-most important defenseman (de Haan) sits even still.
Asked Capuano whether he needs to get 44 or 40 into a game before playoffs. "I'm only focused on tonight. All those guys are working hard."— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) April 4, 2015
Some say, not without reason, that the Isles need to be ready for the "grittier" (read: uncalled penalties left and right) battles and defensive trench war that the playoffs have historically brought. I say dance with who brung them. Go with speed and puck movement.
But whatever. That conversation happens among fans every day. The Isles have the 30th-place team visiting on the back end of a back-to-back. If they can't get both points here then [BIG CONCLUSION ABOUT TEAM'S CHARACTER/BONA FIDES GOES HERE].
And yet, we are reminded of "any given Sunday" and all that:
"There's no easy games in this league," Islanders forward Kyle Okposo said. "We just have to make sure we are ready to play tonight. … No matter who you play, they can beat you on any night and they proved it when we played them in Buffalo. We were up 3-0 and they came back and beat us in a shootout."
Oh yes, we remember. And Chicago almost relearned that last night in Buffalo (a game Moulson also missed), when the Hawks were down by a goal with two minutes left before Jonathan Toews turned the tables and handed the Sabres a lottery-friendly regulation loss.
[Note: Below is a corrected tweet that originally (incorrectly) included the Isles. Left here so that no one thinks they've lost their mind:
Top five score-adjusted Fenwick since trade deadline: 1. DAL 56.0 2. ANA 55.6 3. STL 55.4 4. PIT 55.1 5. L.A. 55.0 pic.twitter.com/y5o5reFYuw— TSN Hockey Analytics (@TSNAnalytics) April 4, 2015
- With a win and a Capitals regulation win over Ottawa, the Isles' playoff spot would be clinched, since the Senators being the day six points behind the Isles and Caps. I'd rather the Capitals lose, in regulation, though. Ottawa (and a playoff spot) is not the worry; seeding is.
- The Penguins, one point behind at the start of the day, are in Columbus this afternoon. Would be really mean if the Blue Jackets -- going for what would be a franchise record-breaking ninth consecutive win -- gave up points to Pittsburgh after stealing from the Isles Thursday.
- Trying to tell myself this part is fun. At the beginning of the season I'd have loved the current situation, vying for home ice. But trajectory is funny.
Welcome Back, Friends
With the stakes high, the final season at the Coliseum almost flies by. Tonight is one of the better commemorative "Decades Nights," as the list of honorees is lengthy and lovable:
- Ed Westfall, Garry Howatt (representing the 1970's)
- Bobby Nystrom, Butch Goring, Ken Morrow (1980's)
- Pierre Turgeon, Steve Webb (1990's)
- Shawn Bates, Eric Cairns (2000's)
They had media availability in the morning, so look for lots of anecdotes and tales to come out of all that.
Leave your First Islanders Goal pick here. I mean, we told you to pick Boulton last game, but did you listen?