Carolina Hurricanes (17-24-8) at New York Islanders (18-21-6)
7 p.m. Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum
TV: FS-Carolina, MSG Plus
One thing that has been supposedly killing the Hurricanes this year is their performance in back-to-back games, especially in ones where they have to travel. Doing this is tough for any team because it's tough for players to find their legs when they already played a game less than 24 hours ago and have gotten very little sleep on top of that. Tonight's contest against the Islanders will be the Canes 11th back-to-back of the season and the good news is that they only have two left on the schedule after this because this type of setting hasn't been kind to Carolina this year. Their 3-4-1 record in back-to-backs may not seem terrible, but they have been outshot 193-238 in this situation and some of their worst performances of the year have come on back-to-backs. Remeber those big losses against the Flyers and Preds both happened when the Canes played the night before and so did that loss to the Penguins where they made Justin Peters face over 50 shots. That said, the Canes played well against Washington in a back-to-back last week despite the 2-1 loss and are coming off a pretty strong win last night so that should make people feel better about tonight's game. There's also the return of Chad LaRose, which should help.
Lines & more after the jump
Ruutu - Staal - LaRose
Jokinen - Skinner - Dalpe
Nodl - Sutter - Dwyer
Tlusty - Brent - Stewart
Gleason - Allen
Faulk - Harrison
Allen - Spacek
Moulson - Tavares - Okposo
Grabner - Nielsen - Parenteau
Rolston - Bailey - Martin
Wallace - Pandolfo - Niederrieter
Macdonald - Hamonic
Streit - Jurcina
Eaton - Reese
What happened last time?
Penalties and a bad start are what cost Carolina a point in their 4-3 shootout loss to the Islanders earlier in the month. I thought the Canes actually played a great game overall but they gave up an early powerplay goal and a late goal with less than two minutes left in the third period that forced the game to overtime and eventually the shootout. I think these kinds of losses are more frustrating than ones where the team gets outplayed because we essentially let two points slip away. That is all in the past now though and now it's time to focus on tonight's game as the battle at the bottom of the Eastern Conference continues.
Something that has slipped under the radar is that the Islanders have been playing some great hockey in Janurary. They are 6-4-0 in their last 10 and have actually improved their Fenwick tied rate to near the league average. This seems to be the case with them every year, though. The Islanders are a team that has always gotten off to horrible starts which knocks them out of playoff contention early, but they always seem to play better as the season goes on and it makes everyone think that they will improve next season only to have them stink again. I don't know why this always happens but hopefully they can break the trend next year since they have some great young talent, especially up front. Tavares, Parenteau, Moulson, Grabner and even Okpsoso are scoring at top-six rate and the latter two are doing it while taking on the toughest assignments on the second line with Frans Nielsen. The Islanders might be near the bottom of the standings but this team is playing some great hockey right now and the Canes should not take them lightly.
- I'm not sure where I would put LaRose in the lineup tonight but it means that someone is going to have to be demoted to the fourth line and I think that someone has to be Tlusty. I said this before but Tlusty has been on a huge decline since mid-January and I think it's best to put him on the fourth line for now. LaRose isn't your ideal first line winger but he is driving possession at a much stronger rate than Tlusty and will help the team more, in my opinion. Of course, Tlusty scored that great goal last night which will probably earn him some more ice time.
- The reason why I don't think LaRose should go on the third line is because Nodl-Sutter-Dwyer have been excellent in a defensive role there and I don't want to break that up. Also, Nodl becomes completely useless when he's playing fourth line minutes but can actually help the team in the role he's playing now.
- Jokinen-Skinner-Dalpe need to be utilized in the offensive zone tonight and I don't care who they are matched up against. This line created a lot of scoring chances last night against Washington with 7 draws in the Caps zone. Do it again tonight and I'm sure one of them will score at least once.
- Unsure of who gets the call in goal tonight but my first guess is Peters because he hasn't played in awhile and Ward could probably use a breather. By the way, Ward's save percentage in January is .945 now. Peaks and valleys, everyone.
- The Islanders may shorten their bench if they are playing from behind because their fourth line is pretty weak, so getting an early lead should go a long way in this game.
- On the subject of shortening the bench, the Canes had five players log over 20 minutes of ice time last night, so I would hope that things are a little more balanced tonight but it will probably depend on how this game goes. It's a lot easier to spread ice time around when you're playing with a lead.
- It's a shame that the Islanders are stuck with that awful Rick DiPietro contract, because they have themselves a pretty solid goaltending tandem of Al Montoya and Evgeni Nabokov, who are both performing at the league average. Goaltending has been a problem for the Islanders for as long as I can remember but that doesn't seem to be the case this year. They also have a couple goalies in the minors that they can turn to when Nabokov is likely traded at the deadline.
Enjoy the game.