When a team has just 9 wins and find themselves in last place of their division, fans may think it’s silly to call one particular game a “must win.” But it’s not silly at all; in fact, it’s imperative that the New York Islanders beat the Montreal Canadians tonight.
The stage is set. Tonight’s game has more story lines than most; Evgeni Nabokov will be returning home to hopefully start his first game since his injury on November 16th (after giving up 6 goals, Poulin needs a night off). You also have Brian Strait making his first home start in over a month.
Ryan Strome’s Debut
The obvious HUGE story line is that Ryan Strome, the center-man from Mississagua, Ontario (also where John Tavares is from) will be making his NHL debut. Strome has been tremendous in the month of December and comes into tonight’s game riding a point streak of nine. The kid is ready and will instantly be an asset to the Isles. But what he’s really going to bring Saturday night is something that has been missing from Nassau Coliseum for quite some time now… Excitement.
The Isles have won only five home games this season. They haven’t given their fans much to cheer about either getting beat 6-2 by the Caps and 5-0 by Detroit (to name a few). But Saturday night, the fans have something to cheer about. They can put their hope into Strome and they can be excited about hockey again.
If the Isles can’t win a game with this many extra story lines, there won’t be much left for Isles fan to cheer about until the All-Star break. Tonight is a chance to hit 10 wins, and start something. They play some very winnable games in the next week. But it starts tonight. Win tonight, and ride the emotions as long as they take you. Lose tonight, continue down the road of “why” and “what-if.”
With Casey Cizikas injured, it’ll be interesting to see how Jack Capuano shakes up the line-up. I’d expect to see Strome on the 2nd or 3rd line, the power play, and possibly the PK unit depending on the situation. He will be a huge spark to this team and the crowd. If he plays well, I think the Isles put themselves in a great position to win. His presence in the locker room should help as well.
It’s a must win.
There’s a lot of hockey left to play and the Isles can salvage this season still, it’s early. But it starts tonight. When the olympic break comes and teams are evaluating their performances and how they’ll go about ending the season, tonight’s game will be pivotal for the Isles. And that’s the truth.
Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @b_isaiah for all things hockey and up-to-date analysis.
Smith works full time with Rise Against Hunger, a non-profit set on ending world hunger by 2030. He’s a hockey enthusiast living in Pittsburgh, PA and formerly covered the Pittsburgh Penguins for THW.
Follow him on twitter @BSmithWV