After a brutal 4-3 loss to the Winnipeg Jets, the New York Islanders begin a five game road trip starting with tonight against the struggling Colorado Avalanche. Tonight’s game is also the last of the month before the start of the worst time of the year for Isles fans, November. Last year the team went into November with a mediocre but not disastrous 4-5-3 record and came out with a brutal 8-15-4 record. This time around the Islanders are a fantastic 6-3-0 but this could quickly turn sour with a bad road trip.
Last season the Avalanche enjoyed a breakout year, finishing with 112 points and top of the Central Division before being bounced in 7 games by the Minnesota Wild. However things have been tough going this season with injuries taking their toll early on as the Avs are currently 2-4-4 and bottom of their division. With the next three games being against the Sharks, Ducks and Kings, tonights game needs to be earmarked as a definite 2 points, especially after a bad defeat the other night.
Tonights game features two of the top 3 picks from the 2009 draft and both teams will look to their franchise cornerstones to come in clutch. Matt Duchene is currently tied with Iginla and Barrie for team high points with 7 while John Tavares is tied with Brock Nelson for team high points with 12 despite playing far from his best hockey at the moment. Look for these two to play prominent roles during the game.
Pretty much the only reason the Avalanche made the play offs last season was thanks to the play of goaltender Varlamov who put up Vezina quality stats with .927% and 2.41 GAA in 63 games, without his stellar play it is unlikely that the Avs would have been in play off contention. Even this season he’s had to be spectacular just for the team to be in contention to win games, the prime example being 49 saves in a losing effort to the San Jose Sharks 2 days ago. On the other hand, Jaroslav Halak‘s recent poor play has lead to Chad Johnson getting the start tonight. Johnson has gone .892% and 3.00 in a fairly poor start outside of an outstanding game against the Boston Bruins last week. Like Halak he had a poor last showing letting in 5 goals against Dallas but has a chance to stake a claim for more playing time tonight.
Keys to the Game
- Special teams. The Islanders PP has alternated between red hot and non existent. The unit looked improved with both Lubomir Visnovsky and Johnny Boychuk together and that has to be a continuing pair as that will undoubtedly lead to countless opportunities with the man advantage, but it’ll be tested by the 4th best PK unit with Colorado.
- Coaching. If the Islanders are going to prevail, Jack Capuano simply must stop relying on the 4th line as often as he is doing. There is no justifiable reason for giving players like Matt Martin almost 15 minutes a night. While the teams talent can overcome this against poor teams like Carolina, on a road trip out West it’ll only end in defeat if the 4th line continues to see enhanced ice time.
- The top line. Last season while the top line flourished, secondary scoring floundered. So far it’s been the other way around, that’s not to say that John Tavares and Kyle Okposo have been bad, their points totals show that, but at even strength the top line has almost been a non factor for the majority of play. Perhaps that is due to the poor play of Cory Conacher but either way that line has to improve if the Islanders are going to be successful.
Just like they did after a tough loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, The Islanders will bounce back with a hard fought win on the road on the back of a breakout game from the top line with both Tavares and Okposo registering multi point games. Two points tonight would certainly set up the rest of the road trip well and show that while the Islanders may not be perfect, they’re able to bounce back from defeat, something that was missing last season.