Hurricanes Record: 16-16-9 (41 pts.)
Islanders Record: 14-21-7 (35 pts.)
The Carolina Hurricanes arrive in Long Island hoping to complete their second Metro Division road sweep of the season, tonight against the New York Islanders. This is the last time the teams are scheduled to meet in Uniondale this season, and the Canes won the first match-up there on October 19th thanks to a multi-goal performance (is there any other kind?) from Jiri Tlusty. The Canes also won 1-0 in a shutout effort from Justin Peters on November 7th. They'll meet once more, in Raleigh in March, to complete the season series.
Both teams come into tonight's game celebrating dramatic overtime wins on Thursday night. Jeff Skinner sealed the deal for the Hurricanes with a game winner and a hat trick against the division rival Washington Capitals (what the heck, watch it again). Meanwhile, not to be outdone, witness the emotional crowd reaction (really, watch this) as Kyle Okposo, the day after being passed over for the Team USA Olympic roster, scored the game winner to lift the Islanders over the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Islanders are ranked last in the Division and next-to-last in the Eastern Conference, but perhaps the more significant stat is that they have won three straight games (against the Wild, Bruins, and aforementioned defending Stanley Cup Champions) and five of their last seven. So they're on a legitimate roll. They are led in scoring by John Tavares (16-29-45), Okposo (16-26-42), and Frans Nielsen (15-17-32), all of whom are not shy about putting points on the board against the Hurricanes. Tomas Vanek (10-13-23) is riding a seven-game point streak, and defenseman Andy MacDonald (3-16-19) has five points in his last three games.
Since returning from injury on December 14th, Evgeni Nabokov has been solid in net, with a 4-2-2 record, 2.13 GAA, .929 save percentage, and a shutout. He is 8-2-2 with a 2.26 GAA and a shutout in 13 career games against the Canes. Kevin Poulin is 2-2-0 with a 2.27 GAA in four career games against Carolina.
Forward Josh Bailey has missed three games with a lower body injury and is questionable for tonight. Defensemen Radek Martinek (back) and Lubomir Visnovsky (concussion) are on injured reserve.
Islanders projected line-up (based on Thursday's game):
Tomas Vanek - John Tavares - Kyle Okposo
Michael Grabner - Frans Nielsen - Cal Clutterbuck
Brock Nelson - Ryan Strome - Colin McDonald
Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas - Peter Regin
Andrew MacDonald - Thomas Hickey
Calvin de Haan - Travis Hamonic
Matt Carkner - Brian Strait
The Hurricanes didn't practice yesterday, as the first order of business was getting out of DC and to Long Island with wintry weather bothering the east coast. Consequently, there are no lineup updates. Kirk Muller did address the media before leaving DC, and talked about the "interesting" first half of the season (listen here) and focus areas going into the second half (hint: special teams and staying on their discipline).
Speaking of special teams, the Canes notched another power play goal on Thursday, bringing their totals over the last six games to 6-of-25 and 24.0 percent.
To quote John Forslund on Thursday's Aftermath, Jeff Skinner is "radioactive". He now has 15 goals in 14 games, and is the only NHL player to accomplish that pace this season. He also has four assists in that same game span.
Alex Semin is on a five-game point streak and has seven points in his last seven games. Eric Staal, Manny Malhotra, and Tuomo Ruutu all have points in two straight games. Eric has a point-per-game record against the Islanders with 37 points in 36 career games.
John-Michael Liles was steady in his Hurricanes debut, logging a plus +2 with 15:45 ice time (including 3:22 on the power play) in Thursday's game.
Mike Komisarek was a healthy scratch Thursday, but with three games in four nights, he may be back in the lineup either tonight or tomorrow.
No decision has been announced in terms of a starting goaltender. Anton Khudobin was solid in his return on Thursday, making 38 of 41 saves for a .927 save percentage. He has not faced the Islanders in his career. Justin Peters has, and he's been outstanding in three games with a 2-1-0 record with an 0.86 GAA and a shutout.
Riley Nash and Cam Ward (both lower body injuries) missed the road trip and remain out of the lineup tonight. Jiri Tlusty remains on IR recovering from an appendectomy. Jay Harrison, on IR with a concussion, traveled with the team and began skating in practice on Thursday, so he may be looking at a return soon. Elias Lindholm remains on loan to Sweden for the World Junior Championships (check NHL Network starting at 9 am for coverage of the semifinals featuring Sweden versus Russia).
Projected line-ups based on Thursday's game:
Jeff Skinner - Eric Staal - Alexander Semin
Nathan Gerbe - Jordan Staal - Patrick Dwyer
Zach Boychuk - Manny Malhotra - Tuomo Ruutu
Drayson Bowman - Brett Sutter - Radek Dvorak
Andrej Sekera - Justin Faulk
Ron Hainsey - Brett Bellemore
John-Michael Liles - Ryan Murphy
We'll have the game thread ready to roll at 6:30 pm. See you there.