Winnipeg, Manitoba — The New York Islanders have been almost unstoppable on the road this season, going 13-5-2 in contests away from Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. In the NHL’s Eastern Conference, only the Pittsburgh Penguins have more road wins than the Isles.
And, at last check, the Penguins are having a decent season.
But Pittsburgh is as far from the Islanders’ players minds as possible today, as the team travels to MTS Centre to face the Winnipeg Jets (3:00PM ET) in a game that could possibly decide which team makes it to the postseason, and which team is left out in the cold.
The Jets are sporting a 23-19-2 record and have 48 points on the season, which places them 9th in the conference standings. A regulation win against the Islanders would go a long way towards helping them reach the playoffs.
The Isles, however, are looking to build on Thursday’s road win against the Toronto Maple Leafs put a damper on Winnipeg’s postseason aspirations this afternoon.
Since New York hasn’t earned a playoff berth since the 2006-07 season, it knows all too well what a team is capable of when it’s chasing the 8th seed in-conference. There’s no doubting that the Isles will come out strong against a dangerous Jets team.
The Islanders (23-16-5, 51 points) own the rights to the Eastern Conference’s 7th seed, although they only lead the rival New York Rangers by a single point in the standings.
The good news for the Isles is that they’ll be getting healthy at a critical juncture in their season.
Defenseman Brian Strait – a waiver-wire pickup by Isles GM Garth Snow before the season – will return for today’s game against Winnipeg, his first action since suffering a fractured ankle on Feb. 18 against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Strait’s return should bolster the defensive corps for the Isles; he’s likely to be paired with captain Mark Streit on the blue line.
The other projected lineup change for New York is winger – and Isles Nation cult icon – Jesse Joensuu making his return to the ice, replacing brawler Eric Boulton.
(The staff at EYES approves of the lineup change, although we’ll be the first to credit Boulton – and defenseman Matt Carkner, also replaced in today’s lineup – with their roles in Thursday night’s fights that ignited the Islanders against Toronto.)
Switching gears slightly: astute Islanders fans will note that John Tavares is scoring goals at a ridiculous personal pace, considering the lockout-shortened season.
As I re-tweeted earlier today, Tavares has 26 goals on the year; if he can record five more goals in the team’s final four games, he’ll match his career high of 31 goals.
That career-high number? That was set during LAST YEAR’S FULL 82-GAME SEASON. (H/T @NYIslanders for this statistical gem.)
The Isles centerman is carrying serious momentum from Thursday’s game against the Leafs, in which he tallied two goals and one assist in front of hometown family and friends.
Winnipeg will have to deal with a revitalized Islanders top line this afternoon, as both Matt Moulson and Brad Boyes also found the back of the net against Toronto; all three top-line players earned “Star of the Game” honors.
Isles Nation is feeling good about how its team has been performing recently, and there’s no sign of the Islanders letting up today. But, the Jets are a difficult opponent, meaning the Isles will have to play their best to come away with a win.
As Isles winger Matt Martin has noted, he and his teammates are road warriors; they’ll have another chance to prove it today.
26 Moulson – 91 Tavares – 24 Boyes
12 Bailey – 51 Nielsen – 21 Okposo
6 Joensuu – 53 Cizikas – 17 Martin
40 Grabner – 10 Aucoin – 13 McDonald
3 Hamonic – 47 MacDonald
14 Hickey – 11 Visnovsky
2 Streit – 37 Strait
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