Raise your hand if you predicted the New York Islanders and Nashville Predators would meet as division leaders in mid-February.
The Metropolitan Division leading Islanders take on the NHL-leading Predators tonight at 7 p.m. at Nassau Coliseum. Both squads are enjoying remarkable turnarounds this season, with both on the cusp of eclipsing their point totals from last season. An Islanders win matches the 79 points they secured a year ago, while the Predators are four points shy of their 88 from last season.
Both teams enter the game hot, as the Islanders have won five of their last six games, while the Predators are riding a six-game win streak. The Islanders hold a slight offensive edge, scoring 188 goals this season to Nashville’s 175, but the Predators have allowed the third fewest goals in the NHL (132).
One reason for Nashville’s stingy defensive play is goaltender Pekka Rinne, who is enjoying a Vezina-caliber season after sitting out most of 2013-14 with injuries. Rinne leads the NHL with 34 wins and is second in both goals-against average (1.94) and save percentage (.932).
The Islanders will likely counter with Jaroslav Halak, who is on the verge of tying the Islanders single-season wins record (32). Halak – who set an Islanders’ record with an 11-game winning streak earlier this season – is third in the NHL with 31 wins. The Islanders netminder had a five-game winning streak snapped Monday.
Tonight’s contest pits two of the top rookies in the game against each other, as Anders Lee and Filip Forsberg go head-to-head in the rookie goal-scoring race. Lee and Forsberg are tied for second place with 19 apiece, trailing Ottawa’s Mike Hoffman by one goal. Lee has made up considerable ground for the rookie Richard, scoring six goals in nine games this month. Forsberg has two over the same span, but leads the Predators with 50 points (19 goals, 31 assists) this season.
The Islanders have come out of the gate fast in their last three games at the Coliseum, scoring in the opening 1:11 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the opening 1:07 against the Columbus Blue Jackets and 11 seconds into Monday’s tilt vs. the Rangers. The Islanders can’t sit back on an early start against Nashville, as the Predators have 17 wins after giving up the first goal, the second most in the NHL.
The Islanders placed Casey Cizikas (lower body) on injured reserve Wednesday (retroactive to Monday), so he will not play in tonight’s game. Recent Predators acquisitions Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli did not play Tuesday due to visa issues and could make their Predator debuts tonight.
It should be a fun one tonight at the Coliseum as two of the league’s top teams meet. Puck drop is at 7 p.m.
|New York Islanders |
38-19-1 (77 points – 1st in Metropolitan Division, 3rd in Eastern Conference)
|Nashville Predators |
39-12-6 (84 points - 1st in Central Division, 1st in Western Conference)
|7:00 p.m. |
Play-by-play: Howie Rose; Color: Butch Goring
Radio: WRHU 88.7 FM, LI News Radio 103.9 FM
Play-by-play: Chris King
|Islanders News: |
- Islanders 4, Hurricanes 1 (Feb. 17)
- Post-Game Video (Feb. 17)
What's Happening at the Coliseum:
- Lower Lobby Opens at 5 p.m.
- Doors Open at 5:45 p.m.
|Islanders player to watch |
Anders Lee - Forward
Anders Lee is thriving on the Islanders top line with John Tavares and Josh Bailey. Lee has three goals and five assists in his last six games, as he steadily climbs the rookie scoring ranks. Lee has 19 goals, tying him with Filip Forsberg for second in the rookie goal scoring race. The 24-year-old makes his living in front of the net, potting a goal in the crease Tuesday night.
|Predators player to watch |
Filip Forsberg - Forward
Filip Forsberg is having a sensational rookie year, leading the Predators with 50 points (19 goals, 31 assists) in 57 games this season. Forsberg sits atop the NHL rookie scoring race, seven points ahead of Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau. The 20-year-old Swede scored the game winner Feb. 12 against the Winnipeg Jets, but has gone pointless in his last two games.
|New York Islanders previous game lines |
27 Anders Lee - 91 John Tavares - 12 Josh Bailey
40 Michael Grabner - 51 Frans Nielsen - 18 Ryan Strome
86 Nikolay Kulemin - 84 Mikhail Grabovski - 15 Cal Clutterbuck
17 Matt Martin - 29 Brock Nelson - 13 Colin McDonald
37 Brian Strait - 3 Travis Hamonic
2 Nick Leddy - 55 Johnny Boychuk
14 Thomas Hickey - 44 Calvin de Haan
41 Jaroslav Halak
30 Chad Johnson
|Nashville Predators previous game lines |
33 Colin Wilson - 63 Mike Ribeiro - 18 James Neal
7 Matt Cullen - 12 Mike Fisher - 15 Craig Smith
9 Filip Forsberg - 19 Calle Jarnkrok - 41 Taylor Beck
24 Eric Nystrom - 28 Paul Gaustad - 57 Gabriel Bourque
59 Roman Josi - 6 Shea Weber
14 Mattias Ekholm - 64 Victor Bartley
83 Anthony Bitetto - 3 Seth Jones
35 Pekka Rinne
30 Carter Hutton