We all know what the Caps have been up to since they left Long Island last Monday, but in case you haven't been following the Isles too closely, they beat the Rangers, got pasted by the Leafs (with their backup 'tender in net) and lost to the Flyers. In fact, in each of the Islanders' last four games, the losing team scored only one goal, so getting off to a quick start at home will likely key for Glen Hanlon's crew, who will try to avoid showing any of the rust that plagued them in Manhattan last week after a similarly long lay off between games.
The Isles have made some personnel moves as well in the past week-plus, as they got Chris Simon back from suspension, signed power play quarterback/defensive liability Bryan Berard, and officially lost Cap-killer Jon Sim for the year to a knee injury. Their special teams have been very good, but, lo and behold, there they are with the same number of wins as the Caps (three) in one more game (interestingly, the Isles' three wins have come against the only two teams that have beaten the Caps in this young season, the Rangers and Sabres).
But enough about the visitors, let's talk about tonight's home team.
We all know that the injury bug has already paid a visit the Caps, and while it may not have hit too hard (yet), it has struck with surgical precision. For my money, aside from Olie Kolzig, Alex Ovechkin, Boyd Gordon may be the most important player on the team. In his absence, shots on goal against are way up and penalty-killing efficiency is way down (from perfect). Sure, the competition in Boyd's absence was better than it was in the games he has played, but his role on the team shouldn't be under-estimated, let's just leave it at that. Gordo may go tonight, but with Sid and the Pens coming up next, it's critical that he's as close to 100% as possible for Saturday night.
Also gumming up the works is the lingering Alex Semin ankle injury. Losing their number two scoring threat has hobbled the Caps' offense and left them with a pair of playmakers without a finisher which, in turn, allows opposing teams to key on the top line (on which the right wing du jour has been largely freeloading each night). The result has been a revolving door of wingers on each of the top two lines and tonight might very well see Joe Motzko and Tomas Fleischmann as the right wings on those units. Eric Fehr's chronic hip/back injury certainly is a notable part of this discussion as well, but the fact of the matter is that whether it's Motzko, Flash, Matt Bradley, Brooks Laich or whomever else Hanlon might throw out there does not belong on an NHL scoring line until they prove otherwise. Well, fellas, here's that chance (and for some of you, it may be your last).
On the blueline, the team has recalled Jeff "wake-up call" Schultz and he'll likely get a sweater in John Erskine's place tonight. Erskine looked awfully slow this past weekend and was on the ice for five of the ten goals the team allowed (and not a single one they scored). Brian Pothier - because I'm sure you were about to ask, "What about Pothier?" - was on the ice for three of the ten. Big John was definitely playing some tough minutes, but the way he was playing against some speedy and talented wingers, every minute was tough. Is Sarge better-suited for this duty? I guess we'll see.
Anyway, I'll be in the press box for the game tonight and down in the room after, so if there's anything you want me to ask about, let me know and I'll try to get some answers.
Why The Islanders Will Win:
We're debuting a new feature here at The Rink today that aims to shed some gameday light on the perspective from "the other side." To that end, we went out and asked some of the Isles bloggers why their squad would win tonight, and here are some of the responses we got:
"The Isles will win Thursday because Hillary Duff is hotter than anything Viktor Kozlov can pull. Isles over Caps 4-2." - The 2 Man AdvantageThere you have it - why the Isles will win tonight. Take some time and check some of those blogs out, and don't be afraid to tell 'em why they're wrong - and why the Caps will get back in the win column to start this four-game homestand.
"Considering how sloppy the Isles have been on both offense and defense the past three games, Rick DiPietro looks primed for a game-stealing performance against Washington. Every time the team looked done for last season, DP always picked them up. Against a promising, revamped Capitals team, there is isn't a better time to do that. I'm sure DP knows that as well." - The Drive for Five
"The Caps are paying Jagr to play for the Rangers; the Isles are paying Yashin to play for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. Clear win for the Isles." - Islanders Outsider
"[I]f the Islanders are to win, it will be simply because they have to win. After a great start, they've fallen asleep and need to prove to themselves, the league, and the fans that they can compete regularly. Also, we're looking for a little payback for last week. Heh.
"Look out for the Guerin-Comrie-Fedotenko line to hit the net hard, as well as Bryan Berard to pitch in more than usual. The Isles need goals before all else. Let's just hope they don't forget keep Alex on a tight leash. " - Islanders Castaway
"None of them want to endure another excruciatingly quiet plane ride home with Ted." - 7th Woman
"Kolzig always eats the Islanders for breakfast, maybe he'll choke on them this time." - SportSquee
"Honestly, I feel that the Isles will come out completely rested and fired up to earn two points in typical gritty Ted Nolan style. With a few shuffled lines and a long break, the Islanders will get back to what made them successful during the first week of the season." - Isles Blogger
"Because the Islanders led by captain Bill Guerin will sink the Capitals ship and Rick DiPietro will protect the buried treasure. " - Battle of New York
Elsewhere 'Round the Rinks:
Last week it was the Calgary Hitmen, this week it's the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds atop the Canadian Hockey League's weekly rankings. Pretty sweet to have the top defenseman for each team in the pipeline, isn't it?... Perhaps GMGM should look to make a trade today. Why? On this date back in 1978 the team acquired Denis Maruk from Minnesota in exchange for the Pens' first round pick in 1979 (used to draft Tom McCarthy) and on this date back in 1983 the club acquired Larry Murphy from Los Angeles for Brian Engblom and Ken Houston. Maruk and Murphy combined to tally 497 goals and 1179 assists after being traded to D.C. (267 goals and 508 assists of which came for the Caps) while McCarthy, Engblom and Houston would total only 196 goals and 296 assists in the rests of their respective careers.
Hart: Zach Parise (3A, +1, 6 SOG, 54% faceoffs won)
Ross: Zach Parise, Sergei Gonchar (3 points each)
Norris: Sergei Gonchar (G, 2A, 3 SOG)
Vezina: J.S. Giguere (W, 28 saves on 29 shots against)
Richard: Travic Zajac (2G)
Calder: Andrew Miller (Game-winning goal, +1, 3 SOG)
Aiken: Ryan Malone (0 points, -2, 0 SOG, 0 hits, 2 penalties)