With nine games remaining in the regular season, the New York Islanders kick off the stretch drive against the Minnesota Wild tonight at 7 p.m. at Nassau Coliseum.
The points are incredibly important to both teams, as the Islanders look to preserve home-ice advantage in the playoffs, while the Wild look to lock up a post-season berth.
The Islanders are currently two points ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins for second in the Metropolitan Division, though the Penguins hold a game in hand. The Isles have a greater cushion over the Washington Capitals, who sit four points back in the first Wild Card.
“The Wild Card teams are creeping up on us and it’s going to be a race to the end,” Jaroslav Halak said. “We need points every night. It’s going to be hard work. We have some really good teams coming in.”
The Islanders four-game homestand also features a date with the reigning champion LA Kings and a back-to-back set against the Anaheim Ducks and Detroit Red Wings.
First the Islanders will have to deal with the Wild, who are having a roller coaster season, but are on the upswing. Things looked bleak for the Wild at the start of the New Year, as the team was embroiled in a 2-8-4 stretch and were quickly falling out of the Western Conference playoff picture. Fast-forward to today and the Wild are one of the hottest teams in the NHL, skating to a 21-5-1 record since the ASB.
The turning point of the Wild’s season was Jan. 14, when they acquired goaltender Devan Dubnyk from the Arizona Coyotes for a 2015 third-round pick. Dubnyk has been one of the hottest goalies in the league and the Wild are riding him in their playoff push, having started him in 31 consecutive games. The all-in strategy is working, as the Wild are 23-6-2 since acquiring the journeyman goaltender.
“It was a new start for him when he was traded to Minnesota,” Halak said. “He fit with the team. Sometimes that’s all you need to fit with a team. It’s a great fit and he’s been playing really well for them. Playing that many games in a row is amazing and he’s shown he can do it on an every-night basis.”
The stability in goal has reinvigorated the Wild’s offense. Former Islander Thomas Vanek has 10 points (six goals, four assists) on a eight-game point streak, while Zach Parise has 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in his last 10 games.
“It seemed like everything kind of came together for them,” John Tavares said. “They had been struggling and there were expectations for them, but they all seemed to dig in and play well. [Dubnyk] came in, gave them stability and has played great for them. They are a complete team from top to bottom.”
Tonight marks Vanek’s first return to Nassau Coliseum since he played for the Islanders last season. Tonight is also Pat LaFontaine night at the Coliseum, as the Hockey Hall of Famer is honored by the team.
Puck drop is at 7 p.m.
|New York Islanders |
44-25-4 (92 points – 2nd in Metropolitan Division, 4th in Eastern Conference)
|Minnesota Wild |
41-25-7 (89 points - 4th in Central Division, 5th 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 Prospect Report (Mar. 23)
- Islanders TV: Casino Night (Mar. 23)
- Islanders 3, Devils 0 (Mar. 21)
|Islanders player to watch |
Ryan Strome - Forward
Ryan Strome scored the game-winning goal against the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night, part of a two-point effort. Strome is tied with Kyle Okposo for second in team scoring with goals (15), assists (30) and points (45). The second-year winger has played a variety of positions and roles this season, but is currently flanking a wing on the Kid Line with Anders Lee and Brock Nelson.
|Wild player to watch |
Devan Dubnyk - Goalie
Devan Dubnyk is 23-6-1 since joining the Wild, starting 31 consecutive games for Minnesota (32 overall counting his last game with the Arizona Coyotes). No player has had a greater impact on their team this season than Dubnyk, as the Wild were on a 2-8-4 stretch before trading for the goaltender. Dubnyk has a .937 save percentage and a 1.74 goals against average with five shutouts as a member of the Wild, all career highs.
|New York Islanders previous game lines |
12 Josh Bailey – 91 John Tavares – 21 Kyle Okposo
86 Nikolay Kulemin – 51 Frans Nielsen – 26 Tyler Kennedy
27 Anders Lee – 29 Brock Nelson – 18 Ryan Strome
17 Matt Martin – 53 Casey Cizikas – 15 Cal Clutterbuck
2 Nick Leddy – 55 Johnny Boychuk
14 Thomas Hickey – 3 Travis Hamonic
37 Brian Strait – 46 Matt Donovan
41 Jaroslav Halak
30 Michal Neuvirth
|Minnesota Wild previous game lines |
11 Zach Parise - 64 Mikael Granlund - 29 Jason Pominville
22 Nino Niederreiter - 9 Mikko Koivu - 44 Chris Stewart
26 Thomas Vanek - 3 Charlie Coyle - 14 Justin Fontaine
23 Sean Bergenheim - 56 Erik Haula - 21 Kyle Brodziak
20 Ryan Suter - 25 Jonas Brodin
6 Marco Scandella - 46 Jared Spurgeon
33 Jordan Leopold - 55 Matthew Dumba
40 Devan Dubnyk
35 Darcy Kuemper