Evgeni Nabokov Returns! Isles/Habs Pre-game

The New York Islanders look to continue their recent road success Tuesday night against the Montreal Canadiens.

The Isles head to Montreal off a frustrating 6-3 defeat to the Crosby/Staal/Letang-Less Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night. They started by setting the Nassau Coliseum into a frenzy with two first period goals from David Ullstrom and Milan Jurcina. The lead was short lived as Mark Streit and Travis Hamonic made defensive miscues that led to prime scoring opportunities that top teams do not make mistakes on. Kyle Okposo gave the Isles’ a 3-2 lead beating Marc-Andre Fluery over his glove. 
 
Then the controversy came...
 
Travis Hamonic and Brooks Orpik were battling for a puck along the boards when it appeared that Hamonic lifted his shoulder to check Orpik. It was apparent that Orpik’s stick rode up and clipped his forehead, which in turn dropped him like a ton of bricks.
 
A two minute penalty would have sufficed if the check made his stick ride up, but the officials saw ‘an elbow’ and threw Hamonic out of the game for a ‘head shot’ giving the Pens a 5 on 3 advantage and the Isles’ lost one of their top line defensemen for the remaining of the game. Al Montoya tried to keep the lead on the resulting power play literally blocking shots with every part of his body, unfortunately after four or five attempts James Neal scored his second of the game to tie the game at 3 and completely took the wind out of the Isles’ sails. Pascual Dupuis would put the game away later in the second period, snapping a close range shot past Montoya to give the Pens a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
 
The third period was difficult to watch. The game was only 4-3 at that point, but early in the third the lead was ballooned to 5-3 when fan-favorite Matt Cooke put home yet another juicy rebound from Montoya. The Isles’ only had four shots in the third and looked like the team that was blown out by the Pens’ and Bruins in early November. Good teams can respond to adversity, this team is trying to become a good team but the effort in the third period when Fluery was having an off game and goals were able to be had was unacceptable and hopefully just a brief hiccup in seven games of great hockey.
 
Tuesday’s game against the Canadiens will mark the return of Evgeni Nabokov to the lineup. He was injured in the two teams last meeting November 17th, a 4-3 victory for the Islanders. He injured his groin after saving a slap shot from Yannick Weber early in the first period and was replaced by Rick DiPietro, who made 24 saves in relief and earned the win. 
 
The Isles’ will look for their fourth consecutive win against Montreal. Carey Price will likely be in goal and will pose a much greater challenge then journeyman Peter Budaj.  Tomas Kaberle will play his second game for the Canadiens after being acquired from Carolina for Jaroslav Spacek. Kaberle made an instant impression by  assisting on both goals in a 2-1 win over the New Jersey Devils on Saturday afternoon. Carolina signed him to a three-year $12.75 million contract in July to help the Hurricanes’ defense and bolster their power play unit. He was a minus -12 in 29 games and did not score a goal. 
 
The Islanders will have to deal with Tomas Plekanec and Max Pacioretty in order to continue their success against the Habs. Plekanec has 24 points on 6 goals and 18 assists and Pacioretty leads the team with 11 goals. With Kaberle in the lineup, P.K Subban can continue to develop and not have to be ‘the guy’ at 22 years old. He is still expected to produce, but in the teams last meeting he was the only defensemen with over 100 games of NHL experience.  Veteran Hal Gill will also be in the lineup and provides a physical presence in front of Carey Price.
 
Two Things for Two Points
 
Home Ice Advantage- The Canadiens will have 21,273 in their building Tuesday night. Habs’ fans are very passionate and knowledgable and can provide a daunting home-ice advantage for the visitors. They can also be really quiet. A key for the Isles will be scoring the first goal and keeping the building neutral. The veterans will need to keep the young guys composed when the Habs come on with pressure. The Habs haven’t had a great year at home losing 11 out the 15 games, 6 in overtime/shootout, but that doesn’t discount that getting two points will not be easy for a young team coming off a frustrating loss.
 
Bounce Back- The Montreal Canadiens are not the Pittsburgh Penguins. This is a winnable game for a team that has played great hockey over the past eight games. Saturday was a difficult loss for all involved but having a short term memory will only benefit them going forward. Getting two points in Montreal will not only minimize the Pens’ loss but bring them ever closer to the playoff hunt Isles’ fans so desperately need and yearn for.
 
 
 
Predictions- 
 
I wasn’t close on my last prediction, but Ray Emery surprised me with his solid goaltending and six goals was way too ambitious. Winnable game for the Isles but Carey Price is the difference tonight 4-2 Habs. 
 
 
 
Final Thought-
 
Would the Islanders be in a different position if they drafted Dany Heatley over Rick DiPietro?