Under normal circumstances, a gameday in July would seem crazy, but these are far from normal times.
The puck will drop on the Islanders’ quest for a fifth Stanley Cup tonight when they face the New York Rangers in their first and only tune-up game before Saturday. Tonight’s game will give us a pretty good look at what the lineup will look like for Game 1 vs. the Florida Panthers and we will see both Semyon Varlamov and Thomas Gress in net tonight.
One thing to keep an eye out during the game is when it comes to the goalies and how they’re tracking the puck. Head coach Barry Trotz seems to have an idea of who he’s leaning towards to start against Florida, but he does want to see how each netminder tracks the puck tonight.
“Are they seeing and tracking the puck? It’s no different than a batter in baseball,” Trotz said. “Is he seeing the pitch? Is he picking up the ball early? That type of thing. You’re just looking for sharpness and for me, it’s which goaltender is tracking the puck really well.”
“It’ll feel good to coach a game. It’s been a few months, so you’re always excited about that first game to get it rolling.”
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) July 29, 2020
The Islanders will also utilize the extra forward and defenseman that the NHL is allowing teams to have for the exhibition game. Trotz called it an opportunity to ready the expanded lineup.
It’s likely that whichever extra forward is used they will likely get time on the line of Tom Kuhnhackl, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, and Derick Brassard. In the Islanders final practice on Long Island, Kuhnhackl was splitting time with Ross Johnston on that line.
Defensively, it will likely be Andy Greene or Noah Dobson that serve as the extra blueliner. The two are the likely candidates that will be called upon should another defenseman suffer an injury.
Projected Islanders Lines:
Anders Lee — Mat Barzal — Jordan Eberle
Anthony Beauvillier — Brock Nelson — Josh Bailey
Tom Kuhnhackl/Extra Forward — Jean-Gabriel Pageau — Derick Brassard
Matt Martin — Casey Cizikas — Cal Clutterbuck
Adam Pelech — Ryan Pulock
Devon Toews — Scott Mayfield
Nick Leddy — Johnny Boychuk
Noah Dobson/Andy Greene
New York Rangers
The New York Rangers are keeping things a little close to the vest in the lead up to tonight’s game. Head coach David Quinn wouldn’t reveal which goaltenders would dress against the Islanders, telling reporters on Tuesday he hadn’t spoken with them yet. Similar to Trotz, Quinn has not announced who his starter will be for their opening game against the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Blueshirts will utilize the two extra players tonight, dressing forward Brendan Lemieux and defenseman Libor Hajek. Lemieux is suspended for the first two games against Carolina.
Projected Rangers Lines:
Chris Kreider — Mika Zibanejad — Pavel Buchnevich
Pavel Buchnevich — Ryan Strome — Jesper Fast
Phillip Di Giuseppe — Filip Chytil — Kaapo Kakko
Brett Howden — Greg McKegg — Julien Gauthier
Brendan Smith — Jacob Trouba
Ryan Lindgren — Adam Fox
Marc Staal — Tony DeAngelo
Extras players: Forward Brendan Lemieux and defenseman Libor Hajek
When the season paused the Islanders had dropped seven straight games, which included a 4-3 overtime loss to the New York Rangers on Feb. 25. The Islanders last win came on Feb. 23 when they defeated the San Jose Sharks 4-1 at Nassau Coliseum.
The Blueshirts hold the edge in the season series, with a 3-1-0 record against the Islanders. The New York Rangers were also a team headed in the right direction before the COVID-19 pandemic, winning seven of their last 12 games and picking up points in eight of those contests.