I'll say it straight. The New Jersey Devils were lucky to get a point against Dallas last night. Tonight however sees the Stars a short bus ride away, taking on the revamped, and suddenly kinda scary good New York Islanders. With Anders Lindback in net on a back-to-back.
I'm not saying the Stars aren't going to annihilate the Islanders, I'm just saying there's room for multiple scenarios tonight. Ideally one of those being the long-awaited (since yesterday anyway) breakout of Ales Hemsky, who after playing some beautiful hockey last night and generating multiple prime opportunities, will probably get his first goal as a Star on a deflection of an errant pass off a defenseman's skate. Whatever. As long as it proves to be the game-winner I'm fine with it. Dominik Jánský of Lighthouse Hockey though has other ideas about game-winners, predicting, like every other blogger ever, that his team will win tonight.
But why? Well, actually, he's got some pretty good stuff to back that prediction up. My questions, his answers:
1. Of all the Eastern Conference teams, the Islanders may have taken the biggest steps forward this offseason. And when I say steps, I, like Neal Armstrong, mean giant leaps. What would you say was the move that will have the biggest impact on this season?
LHH: Ultimately, the other moves couldn't have much mattered without (finally) fixing the goaltending. Jaroslav Halak hasn't been outstanding so far, but he's already stolen one game for them and Chad Johnson has been miles better than last year's backups. The other moves have all paid off already due to injuries (Lubomir Visnovsky, Calvin de Haan, Travis Hamonic, Michael Grabner, Mikhail Grabovski, now Bailey) already requiring them to tap into their depth.
2. When talking with a Penguins blogger last week, he had this to say: "The Islanders look kind of terrifying right now. When they signed Grabovski and Kulemin, it was a wake-up call to Penguins fans that the Islanders could be real. Then they traded for Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy in a 15-minute span. That said, I'm looking forward to the race between the Islanders and Penguins." Small sample size, but you're currently in first in the division. Will the Islanders be going head-to-head with the Penguins for division mastery come the end of the season?
LHH: First off, we hereby thank your team for beating the Pens in regulation, and for giving the Flyers unfulfillable hope by letting them get to a shootout. Well done. [Ed. note: The Stars and Islanders, BFF.] As for the Metro, yes it's reasonable to expect the Penguins and Islanders to be fighting at the top, but wouldn't rule out the Rangers, Devils and perhaps Blue Jackets too. There's a mix of teams who should contend for a home ice playoff seed, but I'll be disappointed if the Isles aren't ultimately one of them.
3. Let's talk style of play. The Dallas Stars play a fast, skilled, sometimes unintentionally chaotic type of game. How will the Islanders respond to that, and what should we be expecting to see from them?
LHH: The Islanders try to play fast, too. Quick breakouts and quick passes through the neutral zone. The blueline is deep and able, save for Brian Strait. Jack Capuano also emphasizes getting the puck down low and behind the net in the offensive zone. You'll also see the Islanders' fourth line, which is basically grinders, at the beginning of periods, after goals, and other superstitious times. Their games aren't as chaotic, but this could be a high-scoring affair.
Also, the Isles will surely use Frans Nielsen against the Stars' top line, although Josh Bailey's hand injury suffered last game will likely affect Nielsen's line's effectiveness.
4. Josh Ho-Sang is presumably still some time away from making his NHL debut, but what young guys should we be looking out for? Any rookies or prospects in line to make a splash this season?
LHH: The rookies who should splash are already here. Brock Nelson, Ryan Strome and Calvin de Haan are technically sophomores, but they are youngsters to look out for if you don't know them. They are joined now by Anders Lee, a big winger who scored well in 22 games last season but missed the opening cut this season, mostly due to veteran depth. Griffin Reinhart made the team out of camp due to injuries, but he's back in the AHL where he belongs for now.
5. Call it like it is. Stars-Islanders. Go.
LHH: I'll go with 4-3 Islanders in extra time. [Ed. note: You see that MaksV? He didn't say 4-2!]
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Thanks again to Dominik. And also, in a spirit of fairness, my answers to his questions can be found over at Lighthouse Hockey.