Nashville Predators @ New York Islanders Preview: Surprise, Surprise
Two of the league's best teams are ones that no one expected to be playing so well this late into the year.
Well, well, well... what have we here. Two fast, entertaining teams that have been defying expectations all year. For the New York Islanders, there was some feeling they would be a competitive squad, but no one predicted them steamrolling through the regular season. We already know how most people felt about the Preds.
Tonight, both of them square off in what could very well be the game of the night. They each score a ton of goals, though Nashville is much better at keeping them out of the net. Fittingly, whether it's going to be high-scoring or not is going to be impossible to predict.
The New York Islanders
In Nassau Coliseum's last year, the Islanders are giving it a hell of a goodbye.
After a disappointing in 2013-2014, (following a season where they broke a five-year playoff drought) New York came storming out of the gate as one of the hottest teams in the league. While some had their doubts early on, they kept winning. Eventually, much like we saw with the Predators, there weren't questions about luck, unsustainable play or anything else... the Islanders were for real.
The amazing thing is how they got to this point. Garth Snow made a series of small, but calculated moves to get his team better in tiny increments. First, they traded a fourth-round pick to Washington for the rights to UFA Jaroslav Halak. They were able to get him signed and it looks like a steal, now. Goaltending was one of their biggest holes in the past, and they tackled the issue head on. He's backstopped the team to 31 wins with a .605 QS%, and a .910 Sv%.
Their other big hole was on defense. Seemingly minutes before the season started, Snow plucked pending UFAs Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk out of Chicago and Boston, and completely reshaped the Islanders blue line. Boychuk, despite missing time, has been a huge part of their power play, and a huge asset on the back end. While they aren't an elite defensive team,(as Monday's game against the Rangers, proved) but they are scoring enough and getting decent enough goaltending to offset that.
The Islanders have been leading the Metropolitan division for most of the season, but only five points separate them from the fourth place Capitals. The Rangers also have three games in hand. So while those four teams are almost assuredly going to be play hockey in April, any one of them could conceivably be the Metro champ. Western Conference foe or not, they're going to want to grab all the points they can between now and the end of the season.
New York plays fast, they possess the puck better than most teams in the NHL, and they have John Tavares. Getting into a track meet would not be wise. Even though Kyle Okposo is indefinitely on the injured list with a detached retina, Ryan Strome, Frans Nielsen and rookie Anders Lee have been filling the hole he's left behind. Nashville may have the horses to match, however, and this is going to pit two of the NHL's best teams against each other.
Basically, this one could be entertaining as all hell.
We interrupt this regularly scheduled preview to bring you "Things Pekka Rinne Does"
We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.
Reasons to Watch
- James Neal potted his 20th goal of the season against San Jose, the first Pred to do so this year. Although Colin Wilson (18) and Filip Forsberg are extremely close. Those have nice rings to them, as well. Filip Forsberg: 20 Goal Scorer.
- Did we mention the Islanders are a fast team? Yeah, this may get fun.
- It will be the last time you'll see the Predators play inside the Coliseum... potentially.
- It seemed like Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli could make their re-debut with the team, but according to the Preds website, that may not happen. They weren't at morning skate, but I suppose it's still possible they get into Long Island later today. Either way, the hope is they'll join the team sometime on this road trip.
And Now, This...
Important Stuff and Things
Remember, the East is a timezone ahead of the Almost East. Puck drop is at 6 p.m. CST tonight, and FS-TN and 102.5 The Game have you covered. You'll probably already be home since you're milking one more free day out of the snow and ice. Respect.