Thursday, November 3, 2011

Gameday Preview: Isles Host Reincarnated Winnipeg Jets

The New York Islanders get set to take on the Winnipeg Jets this evening at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. 

Winless in their last five games, the Isles desperately need a win tonight. Fortunately, they're up against a team they're absolutely capable of beating. 

Up front, the Jets are lead by team captain Andrew Ladd, Nik Antropov, Evander Kane and my breakout candidate for this season, Alex Burmistrov. Winnipeg boasts a fairly solid defense corps, featuring Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom, who is perhaps the most underrated d-man in the NHL. 

Though he doesn't have many wins, Ondrej Pavelec is a strong goaltender when he's at his best. Don't let the stats or that insanely-wild 9-8 win over Philly (in which he still stopped 36 shots) the other night fool you, he's the real deal. Pavelec made a season-high 39 saves in his last outing, giving the Jets a 4-3 victory over the Florida Panthers. 

For the Isles, defense is the name of the game. 

One of the major reasons why they've lost more games than they'd have liked to is that they tend to spend far too much time in their own zone. The Islanders give opposing teams lots of time to set up on offense, and that leads to a barrage of scoring chances and goals-against. 

I don't care who they're playing: Whether it's the Detroit Red Wings or the Connecticut Whale, if the other guys have enough time and space in the offensive zone, they're going to cash-in at your expense. 

The Isles may not have a spectacular defense, but if guys like Travis Hamonic and, in particular, Andrew MacDonald can raise their games a few notches it'll make a difference. 

Special teams will once again be key and the Islanders have to keep up the good work they've done in the PP and the PK thus far. I'd also like to see the second and third lines come through with a bit more offense in this one. 

Here are my three players to watch in tonight's game: 

1) John Tavares

JT has been averaging more than a point-per-game. There's little reason to believe he'll slow down now, especially against a weaker Winnipeg team. 

2) Blake Comeau

Nino Niederreiter's on his way back and Comeau knows if he doesn't start producing he could find himself out of the lineup. Look for a rebound game.

3) Michael Grabner

He scored on Saturday night against San Jose and has played some of his best hockey over the last three games. I think he keeps it going in this one.

Comments are welcome.