PRE-GAME: KINGS @ ISLANDERS
Tonight the Islanders will be looking for their second win in a row when they host the visiting Los Angeles Kings at the Nassau Coliseum. After going 0-4 on their road trip, the Isles came back home Tuesday night and really pounced on a largely listless Nashville Predators to pick up a 3-1 win. Kevin Poulin, who had a shutout going until the last 5 minutes of the game on Tuesday night will make his third consecutive start in goal. A solid performance over the Kings tonight could ensure a tighter grip on the Number 1 job for Poulin. Once again, the Islanders will be without Thomas Vanek and will have John Tavares in the lineup. Tavares took a nasty spill into the endboards during the 3rd period of Tuesday night’s game but he did stay in and finish the game.
The Los Angeles Kings will be making their first visit to the Nassau Coliseum since captain Dustin Brown & Co. hoisted the Stanley Cup in 2012. The Kings come into this game shorthanded as goaltender and former Islander Matt Mouslon’s Brother-In-Law, Jonathan Quick, left their most recent game with an apparent knee injury. Quick left the team on their road trip to head back to LA for more tests and treatment. Having traded Jon Bernier to Toronto over the summer for a bag of pucks, the Kings will start Ben Scrivens in net tonight. Scrivens is 1-1-1 with a .924 save percentage and a 1.89 goals against average this season (sample size of 159 whole minutes). He has a career save percentage of .911 and GAA of 2.78, so certainly there is room for regression in those numbers. As for the rest of the Kings, former Flyer Mike Richards and Anze Kopitar are tied for the team lead with 17 points while former Carolina Hurricane Justin Williams leads the club with 7 goals.
Over the last 13 years the Islanders have prodded a few unheralded players from the Kings organization who have blossomed into full-time NHL players and stars on Long Island. Jason Blake was acquired for a conditional draft pick in 2001. Matt Moulson was signed as a free agent after failing to crack the Kings lineup in 2009. The latest player to travel the reverse manifest destiny route is defenseman Thomas Hickey, a former 4th overall draft pick of the Kings, Hickey was claimed during the Islanders waiver-wire frenzy prior to the start of the lockout season last year and has been a mainstay on the blueline for the Isles. Underwhelming in size, Hickey makes up for it with his poise and control with and without the puck and, in this blogger’s opinion, has been the Isles best defenseman this young season. Despite losing his partner in Lubomir Visnovsky, Hickey has not looked out of place and he forces the Coliseum faithful onto their feet after he lays out someone much larger than he. Though it could be hard to predict a Blake or Moulson type career for Hickey at this point, credit the Islanders for digging through the Kings’ vault as they have for a while now. Either way, tonight Hickey should be playing with some extra motivation as he faces his former team for the first time.
With Vanek out again we will most likely see Brock Nelson continue to play a prominent role on the wing of the Tavares line. Nelson did not look out of place on Tuesday and made several nice plays including recovering the puck during a power play in the offensive zone. Though we have yet to see any flashes of one particular area that Nelson succeeds in more than another, there is no question that Brock plays a tough all-around game and could be one of the most well-rounded rookies the Isles have had in quite some time (off the top of my head I cannot think of another one). If Nelson can keep developing at the rate he seems to be, the Isles could have a decision to make once Ryan Strome is ready as to who should be a center and who should play on Tavares’ wing. For now though, let’s hope Brock continues to play a strong all-around game, because he is making the jobs of his linemates easier.