As the New York Islanders begin a nine-game road trip with one final 2016-17 reunion with Frans Nielsen in Detroit tonight, the consequences are clear.
Continue playing as they have under Doug Weight, and they will be in playoff contention till the end. Continue playing on the road as they have all season (including under Weight), and their season will be toast by the next time they see Barclays Center ice.
More often than not in sports, too much is made of home/road splits, which ebb and flow with nearly random frequency. Nonetheless, it’s hard not to look at 20-8-6 and 7-13-4 and not think there is a there, there.
Add to it that the Islanders’ schedule, like many teams’ in the inaugural year of the World Cup And Mid-Season Bye Week, has featured some strange road swings that helped crater them and a six-game homestand to start the Doug Weight Era just right, and it’s easy to fear real peril here.
But at least initially, this road trip is hardly abnormal: Games in not-far-away Detroit, Montreal and Columbus evenly spaced every other day through the rest of this week.
That’s it, before the NHL’s March 1 trading deadline. It’s after the deadline — when the Isles could stand pat or make a jarring mistake — that things get tricky: Back-to-back road games in Dallas and Chicago, followed by a game every other night the following week in Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and St. Louis.
First things first, take it in small chunks.
The big lineup news today is Cal Clutterbuck is finally healthy — “100 percent” was the standard Doug Weight was insisting on after the nagging injury took Clutterbuck out again — and ready to return tonight.
Who Clutterbuck would replace is a game time decision, as one forward is the proverbially “banged up.” The injured Shane Prince is at least on the trip.
On defense, the same. Scott Mayfield remains, Adam Pelech sits. (And Travis Hamonic, still injured and not on this first leg of the trip.)
In goal, Thomas Greiss, who you bet is going to get a lot of work over this nine-game trip.
For the Wings, Petr Mrazek starts, and Mike Green returns after a two-game illness absence.
How to Watch
Catch it on MSG+2 (twice the plus!), or radio at AM970 - The Answer, 88.7FM - WRHU or 103.9FM - LI News.
Leave your First Islanders Goal picks here by game time, which is 7:30 p.m. EST tonight.