Get all your hipster jokes out of the way, but please do it fast because we're all tired of them.
The Nashville Predators continue their three-game East Coast swing by setting foot in Barclays Center for the first time. The Islanders, still getting used to their new digs, have split the two games they've played there. Both are predicted playoff teams with wildly varying finishing spots depending on who you ask.
The Isles won't play as easy as the last three teams have, so look for Nashville to be more dialed in than they have been so far. Or else...
New York Islanders
Finally... the "GOODBYE NASSAU COLISEUM YOU BEAUTIFUL RELIC" love fest can die. It was a terrible, rotting brick that was hardly suitable for living inhabitants, and the Islanders hadn't accomplished anything there since M*A*S*H went off the air. It's was like like living in your college frat house for 20 years after you graduated. Yeah, you had four glorious years in that place, but now it's dilapidated and reeks of vomit and sadness. Move on.
Now they get to set up shop in Brooklyn, in another barn that's equally ill-equipped for hockey games. It's already sparked controversy when they debuted a brand new goal horn:
Fan outrage was so bad the powers at be immediately swapped it back to the old goal horn. The rest of the league thanks you for it.
New York opened their season with two straight losses to Chicago (one in overtime), but grabbed their first win at the expense of the Winnipeg Jets. It's a little odd to see an Eastern Conference team open up so many games against opponents of another conference, especially against the same division. They host the Sharks before finally flying to sad, reeling Columbus.
The Islanders are a team with both speed and skill, and it shows from the top of their lineup on down. As expected, John Tavares (my MVP pick) is leading the charge for the team with two goals and two assists so far. Their captain and All-Star is going to be a threat to score every time he's on the ice, so expect Shea Weber and Roman Josi to log a ton of minutes against him.
Their forward depth is ridiculous, with Kyle Okposo, Brock Nelson, Anders Lee, Josh Bailey and Mikhail Grabovski all available to do damage. That's why they were fourth in the league in goals for last year. Lee is a player you'll be hearing a lot about, both tonight and in the future. He broke out for 41 points in his first full NHL season last year.
Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk lead their defense, and it's hard to argue with the extensions both of them signed last season. They both completely revamped their blue line, and were huge in making the Isles a much better and well-rounded team.
Yet for some reason they felt compelled to sign Eric Boulton to a contract. Imagine if Brian McGrattan was worse at hockey, and you have Boulton. But at least the Islanders won't get pushed around, or something. (Actually, they may legit dress him to line up against Eric Nystrom. Hmm.)
Don't expect to see goaltender Jaroslav Halak or defenseman Thomas Hickey tonight, though both have now started skating with the team. Both players were injured during the preseason and have yet to suit up for the new season. Head coach Jack Capuano indictated Halak is day-to-day, but did not give a timetable on a return. In the meantime, Thomas Greiss has started two of the three games, and is currently sporting a .915 Sv% after facing 59 shots.
What you've all been waiting for is here: Nashville is finally playing against a good team.
After three incongruent and mediocre games against awful competition, Nashville will test their mettle against a predicted playoff team. As mentioned above, the Islanders have a lot of weapons at their disposal and are incredibly fast. They can transition from defense to offense in the blink of an eye, so the Predators can't sit back like they've had a tendency to do so far. Any prolonged Islanders shifts in their offensive zone are going to lead to problems.
Impenetrable fortress impersonator Pekka Rinne may get his biggest workload of the season. Last year, the only team that shot more pucks per 60 5v5 minutes than the Isles were the Chicago Blackhawks. That's a bit daunting if offensive zone outbursts are hard to come by. So the onus is on the Mikes Fisher and Ribeiro to get their lines going, and for James Neal to look like a scoring threat. It wasn't until the fourth game of the season that Neal tallied his first last year, so maybe he makes it a habit tonight.
Needless to say, Nashville isn't going to be able to rest on a 1-0 or 2-1 lead. New York is just too talented to do so. If there's a game to bring back last season's Predators, it's this one.
Reasons to Watch
- This should be the most uptempo game so far this year. Buckle your seat belts.
- John Tavares is good and you should always watch him play.
- It'll be the only time this year the Preds get to check out Barclay's Center. Try not to focus too much on the off-center scoreboard.
- If the prevailing theory is correct, this will be the best played game so far, because they've totally been saving themselves for the tough opponents.
Another 6 p.m. start, if you're in the Central time zone. FS-TN and 102.5 The Game have your calls.