Islanders Look to Ground the Jets

The bad news: The Islanders head into Thursday night’s game against the Winnipeg Jets having lost 5 straight games.  The good news: The Islanders recorded a point in each of their last two games, falling in a shootout to the Penguins, and in overtime (amid a controversial call) to the Sharks on Saturday. 

Head Coach Jack Capuano has had since Saturday night’s game to focus on getting his team back to playing 60 minutes of winning hockey.  The Islanders controlled much of the play in their past two games, but fell to a red-hot Marc Andre Fleury and were victims of a referee’s error which resulted in the Sharks’ game-winning goal in overtime.  They must bring the same 60 minutes of effort with them before facing off against the Jets. 

The “New Jets’” inaugural season started off with a disappointing loss at home that ended in a standing ovation anyway.  Fans are unfathomably excited to have an NHL team back in Winnipeg.  Perhaps their most heard about game happened last week, when they defeated the Philadelphia Flyers by a score of 9-8.  In a roller coaster game, fans saw the Jets jump out to a 6-1 lead, then blow that lead, and win in the last minute of regulation (thankfully no ‘loser point’ for Philly) on a goal by captain Andrew Ladd with Euruzione-esque clutchness and fashion. 

Despite both team’s early struggles, they were each chosen by various media pundits as ‘darkhorses’ to make the NHL playoffs this season.  Let’s take a look at the match ups:

Forwards: The Islanders continue to be led by emerging star, John Tavares, who netted another power play goal on Saturday night against the Sharks.  Michael Grabner tallied his third goal of the season on Saturday night as well, easing the minds of some anxious Islanders fans that had feared the NHL’s fastest skater would continue his reputation of slow starts.  However there is one slow starting Islanders forward who this blogger is predicting a break out for.  Look for the 22 year old, and former 9th overall pick, Josh Bailey to break out of his pointless streak and onto the scoresheet.  I think having the first few games this season under his belt and having this 4 day break between games will bring out the talent and passion that Islanders fans have seen glimpses of during his still young career.

The Jets boast a young star of their own in Evander Kane, who is a budding power forward at the NHL level.  He will be difficult for the Islanders to contain; look for the Islanders to try and match their young defensive workhorses Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald against him much of the night.  Also leading the Jets offensively are veterans like captain Andrew Ladd and Nik Antropov, and youngsters like former Bruin Blake Wheeler and sophomore sensation Alexander Burmistrov. 

Advantage: Islanders

Defense: The Islanders are quietly among the league leaders in Goals Against thus far, thanks in part to the improved play in net, and largely due to the quality of protection in front of the net.  Veteran Steve Staios owes his teammates a bounce-back performance after Saturday night, when he took a penalty just 10 seconds into the game, which wound up spotting the Sharks a 1-0 lead.  He did not have one of his stronger games as an Islander last weekend.  Other than Mark Streit, who is second on the team with 8 points, no other defenseman has more than a single point this season.  Coach Capuano and his staff will have been working on a way to get more offensive production from this defensive unit during this 4 day break. 

The Jets boast an enviable top 3 defenseman in the form of Tobias Enstrom, Dustin “Big” Byfuglien (author’s note: I looked up how to spell that), and Zach Bogosian.  Veteran Ron Hainsey is sidelined with an injury, which leaves the Jets a little thin on defense after their top 3 guys.  Watch for the Jets’ “Big 3” to each play well over 20:00 each during this hockey game. 

Advantage: Even

Goaltending: Rick DiPietro looked very solid in his first start on Saturday against the Sharks, an encouraging sign for all.  However, one has to believe that unless GM Garth Snow has intentions of shopping Evgeni Nabokov hard to make an early season deal within the next two weeks, this game has to go to Al Montoya.  In the midst of a 5 game losing streak, there is no reason not to go back to your opening night starter after a long layoff from the last game.  Montoya has not played in a few games however, which could leave him prone to showing a little rust early on.  These are the dangers of running with a 3-man rotation in goal.

Ondrej Pavelec has played all of the Jets’ games since they lost Chris Mason to injury, and has posted a 3.63 GAA and .885 SV% so far this season.  Not too confidence inspiring.  Die hard Islanders fans might remember a young man out of Denver University named Peter Mannino, who will serve as Pavelec’s back up in the contest against the Islanders. 

Advantage: Islanders – rust or no rust.

Coaching:  Jack Capuano’s squad has struggled in their past five games, and yet the coach has not made any changes to his line combinations.  The only changes have come thus far with which goalie will play which game.  Capuano needs his team to click in this game offensively to prevent being questioned as to why he would not have used this 4 day break to start building chemistry with new line combinations.  In addition, the Islanders have a stated goal of making the playoffs this season.  Playoff teams do not tend to lose games to last place teams after a 4 day rest.  They jump all over them.  We’ll see how well Cappy has his boys prepared for this game. 

Claude Noel is the first head coach in the “New Jets” franchise history.  His team is off to a difficult start, which is understandable since they are down a veteran defenseman and a good goaltender to injury.  However, through 11 games, they have just one more point than the Islanders have accumulated through just 9 games.  This is a game that Noel and his squad would love to steal on the road to get one step closer back to NHL .500.

Advantage: Even

Overall Edge: Islanders

My Prediction: Coming off their 4 day break since Saturday’s controversial ending against the Sharks, the Islanders will do for 60 minutes the only thing they have been thinking about since losing in overtime on the incorrect delay of game call: Play Hockey.  I expect the Islanders to jump out to a lead against the Jets and not look back.  I think Josh Bailey storms the scoresheet with his first goal and assist this season, and John Tavares continues to impress by adding a goal and assist of his own.  The Islanders prevail by a score of 4 – 1.