While their teams were mired in respective early-season three-game losing streaks, Carolina Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller and New York Islanders coach Jack Capuano preached patience. Neither coach felt compelled to make major changes during that time and both teams rewarded that patience with wins Thursday.
After the Hurricanes beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2 and the Islanders topped the Edmonton Oilers by the same score, the two teams will face off Saturday on Long Island. The consistency both coaches were praising, even during their losing skids, primarily was regarding new forward combinations installed at the beginning of the season.
Capuano made his mark early this season by breaking up the combinations of captain John Tavares and Matt Moulson as well as emerging forwards Josh Bailey and Kyle Okposo. Bailey and Okposo were an explosive pair late last season but both have found success on new lines. Okposo has been skating on the top line with Tavares and speedster Michael Grabner while Bailey has found chemistry on the second line with Frans Nielsen and Pierre-Marc Bouchard. That line opened the scoring Thursday against Edmonton and has provided a spark for the Islanders.
"A lot of credit has to go to the guys I'm playing with. It's been good thus far," Bailey told the Islanders' website Saturday. "It's still early in the season. I just want to keep doing the right things."
One of the main sparks in Carolina's 3-2-3 start has been 2011 Calder Trophy winner Jeff Skinner. A player with top-six forward talent, Skinner has enjoyed great success on the team's third line with Radek Dvorak and Riley Nash. The supporting role assumed by Skinner has helped him enjoy a strong start, where he has a team-leading eight points in eight games.
"I've been clicking pretty good with my linemates so far. The team overall has been generating a lot of offense," Skinner told reporters. "It's been fun so far. Hopefully we can keep it going."
Other than Matt Carkner replacing Matt Donovan on the Islanders' blue line, neither team likely will make big changes entering the game Saturday night.
Here are the projected lineups for the Hurricanes and Islanders:
Jiri Tlusty - Jordan Staal - Nathan Gerbe
Alexander Semin - Eric Staal - Tuomo Ruutu
Radek Dvorak - Riley Nash - Jeff Skinner
Drayson Bowman - Kevin Westgarth - Patrick Dwyer
Ron Hainsey - Brett Bellemore
Andrej Sekera - Justin Faulk
Ryan Murphy - Jay Harrison
Scratched: Mike Komisarek, Brett Sutter
Injured: Elias Lindholm (undisclosed), Joni Pitkanen (heel), Anton Khudobin (lower body), Tim Gleason (concussion)
Michael Grabner - John Tavares - Kyle Okposo
Pierre-Marc Bouchard - Frans Nielsen - Josh Bailey
Matt Moulson - Peter Regin - Cal Clutterbuck
Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas - Colin McDonald
Andrew MacDonald - Travis Hamonic
Lubomir Visnovsky - Thomas Hickey
Brian Strait - Matt Carkner
Scratched: Matt Donovan, Brock Nelson, Eric Boulton