Tonight at UBS Arena, the NY Islanders (14-8-8) host the Edmonton Oilers (13-14-1). The Oilers are currently riding an 8-2 hot streak over their last ten games that has gotten them back into the playoff race in the Western Conference. Meanwhile, Connor McDavid has gone absolutely bonkers, scoring 31 points (!!!) in his last 12 games.
But hope is not lost. The two losses over those ten games have come in the Oilers' last two games, and it is not as if the Islanders are struggling. Quite the opposite, in fact. Before Saturday's letdown in Montreal, the Isles were 6-0-2 in their previous eight games, so tonight promises to be an exciting matchup.
Islanders fans and media alike have been reiterating this point all season, but it remains the same today: the Islanders cannot afford to continue blowing late leads and throwing away points. They have already squandered too many points- if the Islanders can take the lead tonight, clamping down and holding that lead in the third period will be imperative. With the Oilers' weak goaltending, perhaps the Islanders should keep the pedal to the metal and push the play even if they have a lead.
The Islanders lost 5-3 to the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night in Montreal. After going down 4-0, it looked like one of those games that you just throw the tape away and move on afterwards. However, the Islanders played an inspired third period to cut it close, but could not pull off the comeback. The irony was not lost on me that for a team with so many third period struggles this season, they almost pulled off an incredible third period comeback the other day.
Still, this game encapsulates why throwing away all these points all season matters: they now have less margin for error in games against bottom-feeders like Montreal. The Islanders have thrown away probably 7-10 points with blown leads and now threw two more away by losing to Montreal. Odds are the Isles will regret throwing away so many points at the end of the season.
Before the November 13th game between these two teams, I spoke about the illustrious history between the Islanders and Oilers. While fans would not think teams on Long Island and in Edmonton would have any connection, these two teams have had quite the rivalry over the past 50 years, mostly dating back to the 1980s, where these were the two best organizations in the NHL during that decade. More recently, the Islanders lost to the Oilers 4-1 in November, so they will be looking for revenge tonight at UBS Arena.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
NYI: Ilya Sorokin. The Islanders need Ilya Sorokin to start playing like the Vezina candidate we all know he can be. With Bo Horvat and Mathew Barzal firing on all cylinders, and the Islanders power play ranking an unbelievable 7th in the NHL, the Islanders should frankly have few weaknesses. After all, this was a team built around the best goaltending in the league and a great defense corps, and the offense was the weak spot. Now, the offense has come around and the power play is where it needs to be....and the elite goaltending has evaporated. Goaltending can fluctuate, and smart money says Sorokin will be back to being the best goaltender in the world soon enough, but the Islanders need that to happen soon. If Sorokin can find his game and the power play sustains its current level of play, the Isles will be a tough team to beat.
EDM: Evan Bouchard. Yes, McDavid is the best player in the world. But he's always the player to watch, so let's focus on another young star who has finally found his game this season. Evan Bouchard, drafted 10th overall in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft (immediately before the Isles selected Oliver Wahlstrom 11th and Noah Dobson 12th), has emerged as a star this season. Bouchard currently sits third in NHL scoring for a defenseman, with 32 points in 28 games. In fact, Bouchard is tied with Dobson (although Dobson has taken 30 games to get those same 32 points). Bouchard and Dobson have had similar development paths since they were drafted, and both have broken out in a big way this season. So Islanders fans can relate when they see Bouchard having success now, since we have seen the same story play out on Long Island this season with Dobson.
Anders Lee- Bo Horvat- Mathew Barzal
ierre Engvall- Brock Nelson- Kyle Palmieri
Simon Holmstrom- JG Pageau- Julien Gauthier
Hudson Fasching- Casey Cizikas- Cal Clutterbuck
Alexander Romanov- Noah Dobson
Samuel Bolduc- Robert Bortuzzo
Mike Reilly- Sebastian Aho
Evander Kane- Connor McDavid- Zach Hyman
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins- Leon Draisaitl- Warren Foegele
Mattias Janmark- Ryan McLeod- Connor Brown
Adam Erne- James Hamblin- Sam Gagner
Darnell Nurse- Cody Ceci
Mattias Ekholm- Evan Bouchard
Brett Kulak- Vincent Desharnais
Line Combinations courtesy of Daily Faceoff.