The NY Islanders (5-5-3) are about to embark on a four-game road trip beginning with a game tonight against the struggling Edmonton Oilers (3-9-1). The Oilers- who entered the season as a prime Stanley Cup pick- have already fired their coach, dismissing Jay Woodcroft this weekend. Connor McDavid is telling the media that he's not feeling very confident out on the ice. Suffice to say things could be going better in Edmonton.
However, none of this provides any comfort for the Islanders, who have struggled in their own right. The Isles are 1-3-2 in their last 6 games, and have shown a troubling tendency to cough up leads, give up opposing goals in bunches, and not score enough to make up the difference. While the Islanders currently have the 7th-highest team save percentage in the NHL, Ilya Sorokin in particular has room for improvement, and the Isles are going to have to figure out how to score more consistently if they are going to bounce back from this funk.
In addition, the fans have started to revolt against the team and its management, and fan favorite Casey Cizikas wasted no time firing back this weekend after chants of "Fire Lambert" rained down on the team during their latest loss to Washington. While professional athletes usually pay a steep price for engaging negatively with the fanbase, Casey Cizikas will likely prove the exception. As the heart-and-soul of this organization over the last decade, Cizikas has earned the right to speak his mind, and it would probably upset me more if he weren't actively upset at the fans booing his team. It's been made clear constantly over the years how much Cizikas cares about the fans, and his frustration is understandable (if we, as fans, are frustrated, think about how frustrated Cizikas must be).
The best solution for all of this drama? Winning. And that hopefully starts tonight up in Edmonton, where the Islanders have a prime opportunity to bank two points against the league's most disappointing team.
The Islanders lost 4-1 to the Capitals on Saturday night at UBS Arena. The Islanders actually played their best game in a couple of weeks, but were stymied by AHL goaltender Hunter Shepard, who was playing in place of the injured Darcy Kuemper. Shepard's 36 saves, as well as two goals from Alex Ovechkin, were the difference in the Caps' victory.
What can I say about the history between the New York Islanders and the Edmonton Oilers? The historical matchup here is genuinely historic. Wayne Gretzky, broadly seen as the greatest hockey player in history, famously credits the Islanders' dynasty for teaching him "how to win." After the Isles defeated the Oilers to win their fourth straight cup, Gretzky expected the Islanders to be celebrating and partying- only to walk by the Isles' locker room and see them in pain, too banged up to party.
On the ice, the Islanders are 33-31-14-15 all-time in the regular season against the Oilers. Last season, the Isles and Oilers split their two games, with the Islanders securing a 3-0 victory at UBS Arena in November and the Oilers striking back with a 4-2 win in January.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
NYI: Casey Cizikas. With the Islanders floundering and the walls closing in on the team early on in the season, the team needs a leader to take control of the situation. With due respect to Anders Lee, Cizikas can be that guy. He's already inserted himself directly into the conversation with his postgame comments this weekend, and now he can back up that fiery response to the fans by leading the team out of the doldrums on the ice. The Islanders have struggled giving up goals in bunches, and Cizikas should theoretically be deployed to prevent that. Additionally, the fourth line is often put out after goals for and goals against, in order to shift or maintain momemtum. The fourth line is going to have to take the initiative to fix these defensive lapses, as they've done for years.
EDM: Connor McDavid. Who else? McDavid is the most exciting player in the game today, and as much as Isles fans crave an Islanders victory tonight, the opportunity to watch McDavid is a special one. McDavid is not off to his best start so far, but has now been reunited with his coach from junior hockey, Kris Knoblauch. Perhaps Knoblauch can light a fire under McDavid, who merely has 2 goals and 10 points in 11 games to start this season. From the Isles' perspective, if they can keep McDavid off the scoresheet, they stand a good chance of winning the game, so it will be imperative for the Isles' D corps to be on McDavid.
Mathew Barzal- Bo Horvat- Hudson Fasching
Pierre Engvall- Brock Nelson- Hudson Fasching
Anders Lee- JG Pageau- Oliver Wahlstrom
Julien Gauthier- Casey Cizikas- Cal Clutterbuck
Alexander Romanov- Ryan Pulock
Adam Pelech- Noah Dobson
Sebastian Aho- Scott Mayfield
Leon Draisaitl- Connor McDavid- Warren Foegele
Evander Kane- Ryan Nugent-Hopkins- Zach Hyman
Dylan Holloway- Ryan McLeod- Derek Ryan
Raphael Lavoie- James Hamblin- Sam Gagner
Mattias Ekholm- Evan Bouchard
Darnell Nurse- Cody Ceci
Brett Kulak- Vincent Desharnais
Projected Line Combinations courtesy of Daily Faceoff.