The New York Islanders take on the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday night at Nationwide Arena at 7 p.m. Watch on MSG+, MSG GO, or NHL.TV. Listen live on 88.7FM WRHU, 103.9FM LI News or online at radio.com/islanders. Read the game preview. Check the game notes.
The Islanders are likely to go back to the same lines and defensive pairs from Tuesday's loss to Buffalo. Thomas Greiss was the first goalie off the ice at the team's morning skate.
Greiss is 4-0-1 in his past five starts, stopping 154-of-157 shots over that span (0.58 GAA and .981 SV%). It's worth noting that in Greiss' shootout loss, the Islanders goalie still recorded a 41-save shutout against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Metropolitan Division standings loom large over Thursday's Islanders-Blue Jackets game. The Islanders (72 points) are five points up on the surging Blue Jackets (67 points), and are well-aware of the importance and implications of the divisional contest.
"This, to me, is going to have a playoff feel," Head Coach Barry Trotz said.
That could be what the Islanders need to fully move past Tuesday's 3-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres, an "outlier" as Anders Lee called it, a game where the Isles strayed from their workmanlike, grinding mentality.
"It was a little bit of an outlier on our part of late. We've been playing pretty good hockey and let one get away," Lee said. "We learned from it, we moved on and we can get back on track tonight. What's exciting about that is that it's a huge divisional game between two teams vying for the top. It'll be pretty easy getting up for this one."
The Blue Jackets are certainly getting up for Thursday's game, so much so that Head Coach John Tortorella said he didn't even need to remind his team about the implications. Columbus just played one of these big games, shutting out the Washington Capitals 3-0 on Tuesday - their fourth-straight win.
"These points are crucial, especially when we're looking up at them," Blue Jackets leading goal scorer Cam Atkinson said. "I'm sure the building is going to be rocking. These points matter, so I'm sure both teams are chomping at the bit to get things going."
LEE TO PLAY 400TH GAME:
Anders Lee is set to hit a mini-milestone on Thursday night, as he suits up for his 400th NHL game.
He's still about seven seasons away from a silver stick, but the 400-game plateau was cause for pause for Lee to take stock of his career to this point.
"We're all living out our dreams right now and it's been an incredible ride," Lee said. "You can't take anything for granted. Just enjoy this. To hit 400 tonight is extremely special."
Of course the goal is to continue as long as he can play and the 1,000-game milestone is on Lee's mind.
"In the back of everyone's heads you want to play as long as you want and that 1,000-game mark is a pretty one that not a lot of guys can achieve in this day and age," Lee said. "You have to play well into your 30s. It's an exciting thing, but [tonight is] just another game really."
Lee has 245 points (142G, 103A) in 399 career games, all with the Islanders. Lee leads the Islanders with 18 goals this season.
LEE, BARZAL AND ATKINSON:
It turns out Cam Atkinson, Columbus' leading goal scorer, has a couple of New York Islanders connections.
Atkinson and Islanders captain Anders Lee were roommates and linemates at the IIHF World Championships with Team USA last spring. They've kept in touch a little bit, but their previous connection does explain Atkinson's response to Lee's tweet about the Islanders returning to the Coliseum in December.
"He's got a great sense of humor," Lee said. "Cam's a great guy and he's having a great season. It's always exciting to go to those World Championships and meet other guys and develop those friendships."
Atkinson - along with defenseman Seth Jones - was also teammates with Mathew Barzal at the NHL All-Star Weekend in San Jose in January. The two Metropolitan all-stars exchanged sticks, in addition to taking home their portion of the million-dollar prize for winning the three-on-three tournament.
Atkinson's appreciation for Barzal's skill set benefitted from being up close, even if he did chirp the Islanders all-star for wearing "his" number 13.
"You learn each other's tendencies a little bit," Atkinson said. "But watching him with the puck and how patient he is, it's like he's gliding out there because he makes so many head fakes and you have to respect it because he's so skilled, he can go right around you."
Blue Jackets Coach John Tortorella on tonight's game:
"The players know. Everybody knows where the standings are right now and how close it is in both conferences. I think the easiest thing to do is to worry about your own business and take things one day at a time, whether it's a practice day or a game day. They understand how important tonight's game is. I don't have to say a word to them."
Blue Jackets forward Cam Atkinson on playing at Nassau Coliseum:
"Just walking over, taking a nap, you could see the fans tailgating and it's a pretty special place to play. I've been fortunate to play at that arena before they did the renovations, so I mean as soon as you got out there, especially for warmups and the start of the game, emotions were pretty high, the building was shaking, the bench was shaking and it was one of those games you want to play in."
BLUE JACKETS PROJECTED LINES:
Artemi Panarin - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Cam Atkinson
Nick Foligno - Boone Jenner - Josh Anderson
Anthony Duclair - Alexander Wennberg - Oliver Bjorkstrand
Lukas Sedlak - Riley Nash - Markus Hannikainen
Ryan Murray - Seth Jones
Zach Werenski - David Savard
Scott Harrington - Markus Nutivaara