The NY Islanders (19-13-10) head to the State of Hockey to face off against the Minnesota Wild (17-20-5) to start the first half of a back-to-back at Xcel Energy Center.
The Islanders lost in the most heartbreaking fashion on Saturday against the Nashville Predators. Facing former Isles head coach Barry Trotz, now GM of the Preds, for the first time since his departure from Long Island, fans and the team felt as if they had something to prove. The Isles played a solid first period, outshooting the Preds 10-7, but nothing could get past Juuse Saros, one of the best goaltenders in the NHL. After a scoreless 50-minutes of play, JG Pageau opened the scoring deflecting a shot by Noah Dobson behind Saros giving the Isles a 1-0 lead. Ilya Sorokin, who has taken the brunt of the Islanders struggles through goal partner Semyon Varlamov's injury, was locked during the game. Before the breakdown of the last minute of the game, Sorokin played what could be considered one of his best games in recent weeks. Luke Evangelista tied the game with a power play goal with eight minutes left to play. Now comes the heartbreak time, with only a minute left to play in regulation, head coach Lane Lambert sent out the fourth line (missing Casey Cizikas) along with Adam Pelech and Scott Mayfield on the backend. Now fans can argue about weather or not Lambert should be fired amid the Islanders defensive breakdowns and struggles to maintain a lead all season, but I think everyone can agree that this was one of the most questionable coaching mistakes of the season. The Predators took the lead with 0.7 seconds remaining in regulation after a shot by Alexandre Carter snapped Mayfield's stick in two and took an odd bounce over Sorokin's shoulder. While no one could have seen such a weird bounce coming, the play happened after a HORRIBLE turnover by Matt Martin in the Isles zone allowing the Preds to break through the defense and get in on goal. Juuso Parssinen iced the win with just a second remaining in the game to give the Predators a 3-1 victory.
The Wild come into tonight's matchup having not played since Friday night, suffering a 4-3 loss in overtime to the Philadelphia Flyers.After a scoreless first period, Marcus Johansson opened the scoring just 51 seconds into the second period giving the Wild the lead. Joel Farabee tied the game at one just three minutes later. The Wild scored twice in the third period to give them a 3-1 lead over the flyers with goals by Ryan Hartman and Matt Boldy. The Flyers were able to score twice in a minute and a half to tie the game at 3. The teams went scoreless for the remaining 10 minutes of regulation to send the game into overtime. After a Mats Zuccarello tripping penalty was called a minute and a half into overtime, the Flyers were able to capitalize on the man advantage and Farabee scored his second of the game on the powerplay to send the Wild packing.
History always seems to repeat itself in the most painful of ways with the Islanders, who suffered a strikingly similar loss to that of Saturday night the last time they played the Wild this season. Back on November 7th, 2023 the Islanders suffered a 4-2 loss to the Wild, having lost 3 of their last 4 games and their second game of the 7-game losing streak during November. Pat Maroon roofed one past Varlamov off a pass from Joel Eriksson Ek just 19 seconds into the game to give the Wild a quick lead. Noah Dobson tied the game with his 4th of the season 11 minutes into the first period. The Islanders seemed to be on their game that night despite the recent string of losses. With Bo Horvat out of the lineup, Lambert gave Oliver Wahlstrom a chance to jump back in for the Isles, and with something to prove, Wally scored his first goal of the season on the power play to give the Isles the 2-1 lead. That goal was something fans want to see more of from Wahlstrom whose seemed lackluster and invisible when in the lineup this season. The Wild were able to tie the game before the end of the second with a goal by Vinni Lettieri. Heading into the third period tied, both teams played strong until the Wild broke the tie with a goal by Kirill Kaprizov on the power play. Eriksson Ek scored just 42 seconds later to giev the wild a 4-2 lead with over 10 minutes of play remaining in the game. The Isles never seemed to be able to catch up to the Wild and thus began the 7-game losing streak of the 2023-24 season. Varlamov made 27 saves on the night.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
While he may not be a player, all eyes should be on GM Lou Lamoriello, who loves to make sneaky good trades at the most opportune times for the Islanders. With Casey Cizikas out week-to-week, the Isles were forced to separate Horvat and Mat Barzal, needing Barzy to play at his natural center position on the third line. The two teammtes tend to play at their best when playing together, so trading for another centerman seems to be in the Islanders best interest right now, but Lou's quite sneaky so who knows what's going to happen.
Barzal has had a great few games, despite being held off the scoresheet against Nashville, he played a great game and wasn't involved in any of the hickups and downfalls the Isles had. He had four points (1G, 3A) against Toronto last week, and has 8 points in his last 5 games. With Varlamov out for the near future and backup goaltender Ken Appleby never having played in an NHL game, the Islanders will rely on Sorokin for big games and back-to-backs for an extended period of time, something they've never had to do with such a solid goalie tandem. With tonight's game being the first half of a back-to-back it will be interesting to see how Sorokin holds up starting both games, and if the fatigue will start getting to him. The Islanders don't have a long break until the NHL All Star break during the first weekend of February.
On the Minnesota end, young star Matt Boldy has 6 points (4G, 2A) in his last five games. Young defenseman Brock Faber has four assists in his last five games and has been a huge help on the backend this season for the Wild. Both players are fast, agile and love scoring, so the Isles need to shut down the Wild's speed and stregnth in order to win tonight's game.
Anders Lee - Bo Horvat – Oliver Wahlstrom
Pierre Engvall - Brock Nelson – Hudson Fasching
Simon Holmstrom – Mathew Barzal – Kyle Palmieri
Matt Martin – J.G. Pageau - Cal Clutterbuck
Alexander Romanov - Noah Dobson
Adam Pelech – Scott Mayfield
Mike Reilly - Sebastian Aho
Kirill Kaprizov - Marco Rossi – Mats Zuccarello
Marcus Johansson - Joel Eriksson Ek – Matt Boldy
Marcus Foligno – Ryan Hartman – Frederick Gaudreau
Pat Maroon – Connor Dewar - Brandon Duhaime
Jacob Middleton - Brock Faber
Alex Goligoski – Zach Bogosian
Jon Merril - Dakota Mermis