In the Face of Adversity, Shorthanded Isles Take on Bruins Tonight in Beantown
The New York Islanders have just 180 minutes left to play hockey this season and, given the team's latest string of injuries, each one of those minutes will be challenging.
As a precautionary measure, Frans Nielsen and Milan Jurcina are being shut down for the final three games, the team announced yesterday. The Isles will certainly miss both of those players, particularly Nielsen, who was arguably the team's MVP in 2010-2011.
Making his NHL debut tonight will be Matt Campanale, a defenseman who recently signed an ATO (Amateur Tryout) contract with Bridgeport (AHL) after finishing his senior campaign at the University of New Hampshire with 11 assists, a plus-25 rating and 48 blocked shots in 39 games for the Wildcats.
At this point, the Isles have absolutely nothing to lose by giving this kid a look. Let's see what he can do. If the scouting staff has found another Jack Hillen, it can only help the team on a go-forward basis.
Rick DiPietro will get the nod tonight from head coach Jack Capuano, playing in his home state of Massachusetts. I'm sure Rickey's friends and family will be in attendance for this match-up and, while they might be thrilled that he's starting in net, there are plenty of Islander fans that won't be.
DiPietro has had flashes of brilliance this season, but he's also struggled to shake off the rust from amount of time he's missed in the last few years. It will be interesting to see which Rick shows up in Boston. Let's hope it's the former, rather than the latter.
The Bruins are coming off a monumental collapse at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, when they blew a 3-0 lead, allowing the Rangers to take the match 5-3. This season, the B's have surrendered three goal leads as if they were going out of style. That has to be a primary concern for this team heading into the postseason.
As you will get accustomed to by reading my game previews, I like to break down what I call the "X-Factor," or the keys to an Islander victory in that particular game.
For the Isles to defeat the Bruins, they're going to need everyone to step up on defense. I'm not really concerned about the offense, there are enough players who can score on this team to make up for the loss of Nielsen. An aspect of Nielsen's game that New York may have trouble replacing is his defensive play. The penalty kill is going to struggle all night if the Isles can't establish the fore-check and play smart hockey.
Players to Watch
The other main feature of my game previews is this segment, "Players to Watch." I pick three Islanders that I think will contribute most to the team in a particular game.
1. John Tavares
Tavares has played well against the Bruins during his first two seasons and there's no reason to think he'll buck that trend tonight. He's red-hot right now, having notched three points in the Isles' last two contests. Look for him to keep it going in Boston.
2. Michael Grabner
After missing time due to the birth of his son, Aidan, he's had one game to re-adjust. I think he gets back on track tonight. He'll need to be good, especially on the penalty kill. If Grabner uses his speed effectively, he'll find his way onto the score sheet.
3. Matt Campanale
I don't mean to put him on the spot, I just think it will be interesting to see how he performs in his first taste of NHL hockey.
Make sure to check back here at The Checking Line for Evan Pivnick's recap of tonight's game!
Follow Daniel Friedman on Twitter: @dfriedman_isles