The Blue Jackets, in a desperate situation, are trying to accumulate points wherever possible and climb back into the Metropolitan Division picture. Here’s the thing about this division: it’s improved from where it was a year ago and the games within it are even more difficult.
And that’s especially the case in their next game on Saturday night against the New York Islanders. Even though there are few secrets about this Islanders team – it begins with speed and skill – they often confuse opponents by winning games in a number of different ways.
Can they suck you into a track meet and play a counter-attacking game, trading chances and waiting for their skill players to be the game breakers? Absolutely. Can they grind one out by killing penalties and getting timely saves from either of their goaltenders? You better believe it. They also have the ability to, even on their “off” nights, lurk in the weeds and wait for a mistake that gets them back in a game.
They are 6-0-2 in their last eight games and closing fast on the top spot in the Metro Division. It wasn’t the best of starts to the season, but the Islanders have certainly found a groove of late and are getting production from all over their lineup.
Most recently, they picked up a shootout win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night at Wells Fargo Center, and did so thanks to a ridiculous move in the shootout from Kyle Okposo. Saturday’s game at Nationwide Arena is the Islanders’ first since their win over the Flyers and is the first of back-to-back games, as they visit the New Jersey Devils on Sunday.
There are certainly no fond memories from the last time these two teams got together.
Feeling the weight of an 0-6 start, the Blue Jackets sorely needed to get something positive going on Oct. 20 when they hosted the Islanders in Columbus. Their start to the game was better than they’d had in previous games, but still, not good enough to get on the board and take an early lead.
New York took control in the second period and wound up with a 4-0 win, dropping the Blue Jackets to 0-7 to start the season and prompting the removal of Todd Richards as head coach the following game. John Tortorella was introduced the next morning as Richards’ replacement, and he has guided the Blue Jackets to a 11-10-2 record since that winless start.
The Islanders are deep down the middle, perhaps boasting one of the NHL’s best quartets at center ice with John Tavares, Frans Nielsen, Mikhail Grabovski and Casey Cizikas – and with a handful of others having experience playing the middle, including Josh Bailey.
Of course, they expect the offense to run through their captain, Tavares, but the widespread production has been one of the reasons why the Islanders are making a surge in the month of December. Nielsen’s 21-point total through the first 29 games (11 goals and 10 assists) is the second-highest on the team behind only Tavares, and he’s coming off a two-goal effort in the Islanders’ win on Tuesday night.