Game Time: 7:00PM Central
TV/Radio: CSN, WGN-AM 720
The Longshoreman’s Lament: Lighthouse Hockey
It seems like a lifetime ago that the Blackhawks were in the same position as the Islanders are right now. Coming off of years of embarrassing futility with a cadre of high draft picks only needing time to get their feet underneath them, only to finally make the playoffs and eventually run into a superior opponent and have the whole thing chalked up to a learning experience. There’s a lot to make the Islanders easy to root for, but that won’t be the case tonight as they make their first trip to the UC in nearly two calendar years.
This past off season, GM Garth Snow wisely elected not to overpay for aging captain Mark Streit, and allowed him to get ridiculously compensated by the always entertaining Flyers. He was also able to lock down what he identified as some of his key components in Travis Hamonic and Josh Bailey, while still maintaining the league’s lowest cap payroll, with $15 mildo in space right now. But even with some tantalizing restricted free agent options out there such as Nazem Kadri and Derek Stepan, which could have provided some excellent depth between Hart finalist John Tavares, Snow stayed put. Time will tell on whether that was the right now.
The early returns this season have been mostly positive, gaining points in all three games, which included a shootout win against the Devils, a shootout loss to the Jackets, and most recently, a 6-1 cock slapping of the Yotes at home on Tuesday. As is always the case going against a defending champion, the Isles are no doubt looking at tonight’s tilt as a barometer for their own success in the east this year.
That success begins and ends with Tavares, even if the speedy Michael Grabner is currently leading the Islanders with 6 points right now. Tavares may not have the defensive instincts (yet) or the size that Toews does, but he is just as critical to the Islanders as Toews is here. And he might have just as much offensive flair as fellow #1 pick across the bench in Patrick Kane, albeit from the center position. The other JT’s favorite target has long been the unibrowed Matt Moulson, who much like Patrick Sharp, seems to always find a way to pot 30 a season when healthy. Moulson is in a walk year, and could potentially cash in big if Tavares has another Hart-caliber season, but he’s questionable tonight after remaining home for the birth of his son like a total wuss. Elsewhere upfront the Isles have some size in the forms of the aforementioned Bailey, and hellbeast Kyle Okposo, who had a coming out party as a true power forward against the Penguins last spring.
On the back end the Islanders to this point haven’t missed Streit’s offensive flair, particularly on the power play, where they’re cruising at a very nice 30% so far. Lubomir Visnovsky has always exhibited true QB instincts from the point, even if his defensive coverage leaves much to be desired. In Hamonic, which is now locked up long term for less than $4 million, Snow identified a stable second pairing guy with some offensive upside. However other than those two, their corps is just a collection of guys, which includes the cast-off Thomas Hickey and neanderthal Matt Carkner.
The real issues for the Islanders are in net, though. The only reason that Evgeni Nabokov wasn’t tarred and feathered for his abysmal series against the Penguins was because Marc-Andre Fleury was that much worse. As a reward, Nabby was given another one-year deal and a half million dollar raise, which must be nice. In the past Nabokov was an athletic goalie capable of stealing a game, but just good enough to continually break the Sharks’ hearts in the playoffs. As the years have caught up to him, his athleticism can’t make up for his lack of size anymore, and it can be exploited. Especially by the Hawks, who have owned him in the Quenneville era. But none of that matters tonight, as Kevin Poulin, he of 21 career starts, gets the call tonight.
As for our Men of Four Feathers, tonight offers an opportunity to regroup after failing to escape the gaping asshole of a city of St. Louis with a point, allowing the game winner with 20 seconds to go. There was nothing inherently wrong with the game the Hawks played; as a matter of fact it was far more their style of game than it was a typical Blues home game, but the standings don’t have a moral victory column.
The lineup tonight figures to be pretty much the same, at least up front, even if the bottom six is jumbled.
#Blackhawks lines today: 29-19-88, 10-26-81, 16-65-20, 52-42-28.
— Tracey Myers (@TramyersCSN) October 11, 2013
While Nordstrom has shown little to warrant remaining in the lineup, let alone entrusted to more responsibilities at center, at least he’ll have a safety net in the form of Ben Smith, who can win a draw or two. The third line also features two men out of position, with Andrew Shaw at center and Marcus Kruger at wing, but such is the Throbbing Brain of Joel Quenneville.
Behind all of that Michal Rozsival will hop back into the lineup after watching his platoon-mates Kostka and Brookbank have a go at it in the last two. Rozy looked a little slow against the Caps, but their forwards will do that to a #6 defensemen, even one as good as Rozsival. He won’t get much relief from the quick forwards of the Islanders tonight, so support from Leddy will be key.
In the cage for the Hawks will be Nikolai HarveyBirdman getting his first real action in an Indianhead since the debacle that was Game 4 of the WCF in 2009 against Scum. He’s older, marginally more sober, and has a new mask since last we saw him, but in spot starts he should be effective in spelling Corey Crawford against opponents in back-to-backs. Time will tell if he’s able to be a good soldier, however.
This should be an entertaining night of hockey, as both teams like to get up and down the ice. The key will be for the Hawks’ defensemen to not run around chasing Islanders’ puck carriers, and remain patient when breaking out, as the Isles only have a couple guys who are ravenous on the forecheck, especially with Clusterfuck still hurt. Games like this at home have to matter, even this early in the season. Make it count. Let’s go Hawks.