Islanders Look to Bury Avalanche Tuesday Night

The Islanders will host the Colorado Avalanche Tuesday night at the Nassau Coliseum as the Isles look to extend its winning streak to four and improve to 10-5-0 on the season.  It will be the Islanders first home game back after a 3-2-0 road trip out west but will be slightly better than a stop-over before the team hits the road to Florida for two more the rest of the week.
 
Tuesday will also give the Islanders an opportunity to atone for its worst defeat of the season two weeks ago when the Avalanche drubbed them 5-0.  The Islanders outshot the Avalanche 40-23, but went 0-6 on the powerplay and allowed a powerplay goal against in two opportunities.  It was an embarrassing way to kick off the road trip and quickly got fans into a panic over another impending “November swoon.”  However three strong road performances in a row and it looks like those issues are put to rest for now (solid goaltending didn’t hurt either…)
 
And about that goaltending?  After a lackluster first month of the season, the Jaroslav Halak/Chad Johnson duo finally stepped up out West.  The improved play between the pipes actually started with the loss at San Jose as Halak kept the Islanders in the game despite coming away with a loss.  He quickly righted the ship in Anaheim and Arizona, stopping a combined 51 of 53 shots in his last two games.  In between the two Chad Johnson secured a shootout victory in Los Angeles against the Kings, stopping 28 of 29 shots, and adding another two saves in the shootout.  The Isles showed that a New York team can win in Los Angeles after all.
 
The Islanders are going to have to try and avoid the dreaded “first game home from a long trip” trap against Colorado who have the young wheels to make the Islanders pay if they aren’t skating.  The Islanders’ offense has slowed lately after its furious-scoring pace earlier in the season.  However they have still been receiving balanced scoring throughout the lineup and when the top three lines are rolling, the Islanders’ offense is tough to contain.  
 
The big question on the injury front will be whether defenseman Johnny Boychuk plays.  He was the recipient of a knee-to-knee hit against the Kings Thursday night and missed Saturday night’s game against the Coyotes.  Several Islander media outlets, including Arthur Staple, tweeted that the injury is not serious and Boychuk’s availability will be determined Tuesday.  If he can’t go expect to see veteran Brian Strait in the lineup and paired with Nick Leddy.  
 
While it’s tough to nitpick the Islanders’ coaching staff this past week, it’s still confusing to see Matt Donovan withering away in the press box for Strait.  At this point we know what Strait is capable of (and more importantly, not capable of), so it would be in the club’s best interests to get Donovan into the lineup.  He’ll never be a shut-down defenseman, but Donovan does possess better speed than Strait and when you have a lineup core led by Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon, and Ryan O’Reilly, you better have speed on your blue-line.  Donovan would help more than Strait in that department.
 
News reports Monday also indicated that Josh Bailey is close to returning (although not Tuesday night) from a hand injury.  The team may have caught a break on making a difficult decision for now as Eric Boulton “tweaked” something in practice and may be forced out of the lineup.  If he goes on the IR expect Bailey to take his place in the lineup.  If Boulton’s injury is not serious the team will likely look to waive Cory Conacher who has provided little when in the lineup.  To be fair, Conacher was signed for a one-year, $600,000 contract for a reason and to throw him on the top line and expect significant production was a complete misfire by the organization.  
 
The Avalanche come to town carrying a 4-7-5 record and what seems like at least one Patrick Roy meltdown per game.  They have trouble scoring (21st in the league), have issues keeping pucks out of their net (9th worst), give up the third most shots per game, and have the 23rd ranked powerplay.  But hey, they have the 5th best penalty kill in the league, so that’s something!  The Avalanche need more production from Matt Duchene who only has four goals and six assists in 16 games so far if they are going to have a shot at a playoff spot again this season.
 
But this game will ultimately come down to the defensive effort and goaltending the Islanders receive.  The past week has demonstrated the Islanders have the ability to win close, tight-checking games.  Now they must prove they can do it consistently, and not just in short spurts.  While it will be nice if the team can put up four or five goals, it will be most interesting to see how the team defense handles the Avalanche and whether the Islanders can replicate the success they’ve had the last three games.
 
Lineup: Halak will get the nod in net. Boulton will also be replaced in the lineup by Conacher in what may be his last chance to impress the coaching staff. Boychuk's status is still not known. Courtesy of Arthur Staple. 
 
Prediction: Halak seems to be getting on a roll, and one look at his career indicates he can be a very streaky goaltender.  I fully expect Halak to pick up where he left off on the road trip and turn in another quality performance in net (he’s also posted a 4-2-2 mark against Colorado in his career with a .915 save percentage and 2.46 goals against average.)  Whereas the Islanders fired 40 shots on goal against Semeyon Varlamov last time without any success, this time the Isles catch a few break and skate away with a 3-2 victory.  
 
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