Isles Look to Tame Wild

The New York Islanders will take on the Minnesota Wild tonight.  The Islanders have been playing well lately, staying in every game they’ve played since breaking their long losing streak almost a month ago.  Despite a 4-0-2 stretch which saw the young Isles climb back up the standings, their most recent games, regardless of their improved play, have not yielded the type of success they have needed in the standings.  They have walked away from recent games where 2 points was well within their grasp.

There are many stages to a rebuild, and the Islanders seem to be on the right track for a slow, steady, and successful one.  We saw this season during their long losing streak, that unlike last season when they took the ice for each game with a look of despair, that this team comes out of the locker room hungry and expecting to win every time they play. 

The next lesson that this young group needs to learn is simple: Finish Games.

In the National Hockey League, when you have a lead in the third period, you should win.  These players are so talented and so brilliant at the game of hockey, that when their only task is to keep the other team from scoring, they should know exactly how to do that.  The Islanders have given up too many third period leads – and too many early 2 goal leads – to have themselves on track for the playoffs so far this season.

The Islanders have proven that they can play with anyone in the league, however, and another hot streak could bring them right back into the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race.  They cannot afford to wait much longer though.

The Islanders have another opportunity to face a team being tested with injury problems, as the Minnesota Wild will be without captain Mikko Koivu, Devin Setoguchi,  and Guillaume Latendresse, and Pierre-Marc Bouchard (who will be a game-time decision).  Their last opportunity to do this, facing the Penguins minus Crosby, Letang, and Staal, did not fare well for the Islanders, who lost to the short-handed Pens 6-3.  A more complete effort will be imperative tonight, as the Wild still boast a tremendous amount of talent all over the ice, led by oft-maligned sniper Dany Heatley.

Youngster Calvin de Haan was returned to Bridgeport after making his NHL debut against the Dallas Stars.  It was his first taste of NHL action, and fans were excited to see how he would fare.  He held his own and did not look very out of place in his first action against players like Brendan Morrow and Sheldon Souray, who de Haan said he grew up watching.  Isles fans appear to have a lot to look forward to with de Haan.

With de Haan being returned to the Bridge, Andrew MacDonald and Mark Eaton have both been named game time decisions, and one will take the ice versus the Wild tonight.  Should MacDonald dress, he would likely be re-united with partner Travis Hamonic, who would undoubtedly be tasked with attempting to shut down the dangerous Heatley.

In goal, the Wild have their typical embarrassment of riches, with Nicklas Backstrom playing at his usual high level.  Backstrom has been carrying the load even more than usual while backup Josh Harding recovered from injury, though Harding has been recalled from the IR and will serve as Backstrom’s reserve tonight.

For the Islanders, Al Montoya will get the start in net as he looks to rebound from an unusually weak outing from the man who had taken over the #1 job with his steady and strong play.  Look for Montoya to steady the ship as he tries to jump start the team back to their winning ways and begin their ascent up the standings.

Prediction:  Head Coach Jack Capuano will have his boys ready to go, as will Alternate Captain Kyle Okposo, who will be playing in his home state of Minnesota.  The Islanders will not take this opportunity against an injury depleted Wild for granted, as they learned that lesson the hard way courtesy of the Penguins last week.  Okposo will have a big game on “home away from home” ice, as will Montoya.  John Tavares also finds the back of the net in this one, and will get himself on a hot streak. 

Final Score:  Islanders 4, Wild 1


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