Islanders Host Blue Jackets in Sunday Matinee

The Islanders look to finish up their homestand Sunday afternoon on a high note as they take on their Metropolitan rival Columbus Blue Jackets 1pm at the Nassau Coliseum. It will be the third of four matchups as Columbus has taken the first two, including the Islanders’ home opener. In what was a sign for things to come, the Islanders blew a 2-0 third period lead before falling to Columbus in the shootout 3-2. The two met again at the Nationwide Arena in November where the Blue Jackets scored three times in the third period to win 5-2. (Photo credit: paul.hadsall/flickr).

The game also marks the first time the Islanders have stepped on the ice since its latest disaster Tuesday against the Minnesota Wild. Not only were the Islanders shellacked on the scoreboard 6-0, but the home fans even serenaded the Coliseum with “WE WANT MOULSON” chants late in the game. In a season full of lows, Tuesday very well may have been the bottom. Surely this had to catch the attention of management.

The Blue Jackets will invade the Coliseum in an ornery mood fresh off a 3-1 defeat against the Rangers at home Friday night.  The Blue Jackets took a 1-0 lead early in the third period before the Rangers mounted their comeback to win the spirited match. Columbus is locked in a fierce battle for a playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division as they seek their second playoff appearance in franchise history and can ill afford to let another two points slip through their grasp. The Islanders? Not so much.

Already playing with a depleted lineup, news trickled out Friday that both Kyle Okposo and Lubomir Visnovsky are nursing injuries. With Visnovsky out expect a defensive unit of Travis Hamonic, Calvin de Haan, Thomas Hickey, Matt Carkner, Matt Donovan, and Kevin Czuczman. That sound you just heard was Columbus’ forwards high-fiving each other.

However the biggest advantage for Columbus is in net as reigning Vezina winner Sergei Bobrovsky will look to rebound from Friday night’s defeat where he stopped 29 of 31 shots. Bobrovsky’s numbers have dipped slightly from his award-winning season last year, but the Russian netminder has been at the top of his game since the new year posting a 17-7-2 record with a .928 save percentage. If Bobrovsky doesn’t go, backup Curtis McElhinney would get the nod. (Photo Credit: cblake34/flickr).

For the Islanders, they will most likely have Evgeni Nabakov between the pipes for this matinee tilt.  He is currently sitting 44th out of 48 qualified goaltenders in save percentage, which, sadly, makes him the best option the Islanders currently have in the organization. Backup Anders Nilsson got the start Tuesday against Minnesota and allowed 6 goals on 22 shots before the final whistle mercifully blew.

Keys for the Game:

For the Islanders, they have to forget about Tuesday night’s final result against Minnesota and remember that they outshot the Wild 16-6 in the first period before the game got away from them. They need to move the puck quickly out of their own end and avoid being pinned in deep for long periods. Columbus’ forwards pose the type of threat the Islanders’ blue line struggles with—big and physical. If the Islanders can’t get out of their own end this game could get ugly.

Up front the Islanders, and it’s cliché to say, need to outwork Columbus and get dirty. The Islanders are painfully thin up front right now and will be in significantly worse shape if Okposo can’t give it a go. The young forwards are going to have make life miserable for the Columbus netminder...get shots from all angles and send 2 or 3 guys crashing towards the net. Even if they take a goalie interference penalty or two, they need to be relentless in getting to the front of the net.

For Columbus, the forward group led by Ryan Johansen, Nathan Horton and Brandon Dubinksy need to bully the Islanders down low in order to be successful. If the forward group can impose its will on the Islanders, history tells us they will be able to cash in with goals or power plays against the Islanders. Columbus boasts only the 17th ranked power play in the league, but the Islanders 29th ranked penalty kill could be its antidote.

With just a dozen games remaining in the season the Islanders will try and maintain some shred of respectability and close out the campaign on a high note.

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