The Islanders travel to face the Montreal Canadiens Thursday night. Here are three factors to watch for when the puck drops.
Who Is That Masked Man?
The Islanders have been going through goalies like Liz Taylor goes through husbands lately. With Rick DiPietro sidelined after his brief stint as a prize fighter (record 0-1) and Kevin Poulin out with a dislocated knee cap suffered in warmups this past Sunday, the Islanders will again turn to Mikko Koskinen. Koskinen is the fifth goalie the Islanders have played this season. On Tuesday the 22-year-old made his NHL debut in a 5-3 loss to Toronto.
The Islanders also acquired G Al Montoya from the Phoenix Coyotes for a sixth-round pick. The ill-fated No. 6 overall pick of the New York Rangers in 2004, Montoya could soon see his first NHL action since the 2008-09 season, but Koskinen is expected to get the nod tonight.
At the other end of the ice, expect to see Canadiens backup goalie Alex Auld between the pipes. While that hasn’t been confirmed, All-Star starter Carey Price gave up a season-high eight goals in a fight-filled loss to the Bruins Wednesday, a game in which Price dropped his gloves as well. (Just for fun you should scroll through the box score of that game. And set aside a few minutes to get to the bottom.)
Since getting shutout by the Pittsburgh Penguins Feb. 2, the Isles have scored a combined eight goals over their past two games. Expect them to apply a lot of early pressure against a team that couldn’t stop the Bruins at all Wednesday night.
The Islanders need to improve their play when skating five-on-five. Their .66 even-strength ratio is the worst in the league. Considering most of the game is played with five-a-side and the Isles power play is nothing to write home about either (a middling 17.7 percent) the only real way for New York to compensate is to simply play better at even strength. Sage advice, I know.
Michael Grabner could be a key cog on that front though. Fifteen of his 17 goals have been scored at even strength and, remarkably, he carries a plus-4 rating into tonight’s contest. He’s one of only two Islanders in the plus column for the season, with Frans Nielsen (plus-1) the other.