The New York Islanders (19-8-0) will begin their first of three games against the Western Conference starting with the Minnesota Wild (14-10-1) tonight at 8pm in the Xcel Energy Center in Minnesota. The Islanders are coming off a poor penalty kill performance against the St. Louis Blues and lost 6-4. The Wild are also coming off a loss to the Anaheim Ducks 5-4.
Couple of quotes from the New York Islanders:
“It’s a tough little stretch here,” Matt Martin said. “We’re playing Minnesota, St. Louis and Chicago, who are some of the better teams in the West and in the league. After losing [to St. Louis] at home in a game that we shouldn’t have lost, we want to respond here in Minnesota, get on the right track and carry that momentum forward.”
“We just have to get back to playing our game,” Kyle Okposo said. “It’s a little different playing Western Conference teams, a different style of play, but we’re built for that. We have to try to use our assets to our advantage.”
According to multiple reports, Lubomir Visnovsky is back in for the Isles and replaces Matt Donovan. Josh Bailey returns to the lineup while Casey Cizikas was put on the IR.
For the Minnesota Wild, defenseman Ryan Suter is expected to return to the ice against the Islanders. The blueliner missed the previous two games with the mumps.
In 43 games against the Islanders, Zach Parise has recorded 40 points (17-23=40), his most against any other team he faces.
Niklas Backstrom will get the nod in net against the Isles. Backstrom will be playing in his 400th career game. He’s been on a tear his last two starts (1-0-1), and has posted a .946 save percentage to go along with a 1.45 goals-against average. For his overall season, the 36-year-old is 3-2-1 with a .915 SV% and 1.97 GAA.
Former Isles Thomas Vanek
“I’m not expecting any miracles tonight, and I know it’s not the other players I have played with,” Vanek said. “I need to be better. I know that.”
86 Nikolay Kulemin – 91 John Tavares – 21 Kyle Okposo
40 Michael Grabner – 51 Frans Nielsen – 84 Mikhail Grabovski
27 Anders Lee – 29 Brock Nelson – 18 Ryan Strome
17 Matt Martin – 53 Casey Cizikas – 15 Cal Clutterbuck
2 Nick Leddy – 11 Lubomir Visnovsky
44 Calvin de Haan – 8 Griffin Reinhart
14 Thomas Hickey – 37 Brian Strait
41 Jaroslav Halak
30 Chad Johnson
Minnesota will be well represented today as 8 players are expected to play in tonight’s game: Parise, Keith Ballard, Nate Prosser, Ryan Carter, Kyle Okposo, Brock Nelson, Nick Leddy and Anders Lee.
There’s a growing concern that Matt Donovan is not getting enough playing time and that he should replace Brian Strait, who has not had the greatest of games lately (or for some, ever). Here is why I believe the Islanders continue to play Strait over Donovan. Matt Donovan is a puck moving defenceman who could play on a teams power-play unit if needed. Brian Strait is more of a stay-at-home defenceman who will be lucky if he eclipses 7 points this season. It’s not his job to put up points. Last I looked, both Johnny Boychuck and Travis Hamonic are still injured, so if you were to replace Donovan with Strait, that would leave you with just Griffin Reinhart, a rookie as the Isles only stay-at-home defenseman. So the Isles replaced Donovan, a puck moving defenceman with Visnovsky, who is also a puck moving defenseman and the Isles can play two stay-at-home-defenceman against a potent offense in Minnesota. If anyone is searching for Straits replacement, look to Scott Mayfield in Bridgeport. He’s the next up and coming, big, stay-at-home defenceman the Islanders have that should make a smooth transition when the Islanders feel he’s ready for the next step.