New York Islanders vs. Edmonton Oilers
7 p.m., Barclays Center - Buy Tickets
Radio: AM 570 WMCA, 88.7FM WRHU, 103.9FM LI News
The New York Islanders (4-6-1) host the Edmonton Oilers (7-3-1) on Saturday night at Barclays Center in a matchup that pits John Tavares against Connor McDavid. The two first-overall picks (Tavares in 2009, McDavid in 2015) are both captains, both lead their teams in scoring and anchor the top line.
Last season's matchup was one to remember for the Islanders, who beat the Oilers 8-1 on Super Bowl Sunday, but the Oilers have made some big changes since then. Over the summer, the Oilers traded 2010 first-overall pick Taylor Hall (for defenseman Adam Larsson) and 2012 first-overall pick Nail Yakupov and signed Milan Lucic in free agency. Edmonton's changes are working early, as the team is out to a 7-3-1 start, though they're 0-2-1 in their last three.
Isles Looking For the Right Lines:
Jack Capuano tinkered with his lines ahead of Thursday's game against the Philadelphia Flyers in hopes of sparking the forward group, but wound up having to change them again midgame.
Perhaps the most noteworthy change was playing Cal Clutterbuck and Casey Cizikas with John Tavares, fusing together his energetic checkers with the Islanders most dynamic player. That's not likely to become a permanent trio, but Cizikas and Tavares did hook up on the power play, tallying the Islanders' first goal.
"We have to find a way to get some balanced offense on our hockey team," Capuano said after Thursday's game.
Capuano said there's a good chance one or two of the rookies will be back in the lineup on Saturday, though he didn't specify who.
Staying Out of the Box:
Penalties have played a part in both of the Islanders' losses this week, as a major penalty put the Islanders behind early against Tampa Bay and a late penalty gave the Flyers a 6-on-4 opportunity, which they converted for the tying goal.
"The key for us is to make sure we stay disciplined," Capuano said on Friday. "That's the big thing, we've taken way too many minor penalties with our stick infractions. That's number one."
The Islanders had the league's top penalty kill early in the season, but have given up a power-play goal in five straight games. The best way to not give up power-play goals - stay out of the box.
Connor McDavid Comes To Town:
Connor McDavid comes to Barclays Center once a year and for hockey fans, it's a can't-miss event. McDavid, 19, is one of the NHL's top talents, not just for his age group. His anticipated rookie season was cut short by a broken collarbone, but he still managed to score 48 points in 45 games and is scoring above a point-per-game pace to start this season, with 13 points in 11 games.
Like John Tavares, McDavid was granted exceptional player status at 14 to be drafted into the OHL and blew through junior with 285 points in 166 games. Fast-tracked to junior, fast-tracked to the NHL and fast-tracked to a captaincy, McDavid became the youngest captain in NHL history (19 yrs. 266 days) this season.
He's fast, he's skilled and watching him go head-to-head with Tavares is worth the price of admission.
Edmonton Finally Strikes Oil:
The Edmonton Oilers haven't had a winning season since 2008-09 and haven't made the playoffs since their Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2006. They've taken their lumps over that span, but are starting to emerge out the other side, off to a 7-3-1 start this season.
McDavid is the centerpiece of the Oilers 7-3-1 start, with 13 points in 11 games, but the Oilers are getting contributions up and down their lineup. Five of the Oilers top six scorers are spread out on three lines. Jordan Eberle (3G, 4A) is playing alongside McDavid on the top line, while Leon Draisaitl and Milan Lucic have combined for 13 points (6G, 7A) on the team's third line. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (1G, 5A) is anchoring the second line, so the Oilers have offensive threats on almost every shift.
And while he's not one of their leading scorers, Oilers' 2016 first-round pick (third overall) Jesse Puljujarvi skated on the team's second line during Friday's practice at Chelsea Piers.
Goaltender Cam Talbot has started the season hot as well, with a league-leading seven wins, a 2.31 goals-against average, a .927 save percentage and two shutouts.