One of the few surprises early on in this NHL season has been the play of the New York Islanders. The Islanders have gotten off to a 2-0-1 start, the best start for the team since 2001-02, when they started the year off 3-0-0. Everything seems to be clicking for the Islanders for the first three games this season. Now, however, comes the first real test for the team. Tonight, the Islanders head to the windy city to take on the defending Stanley Cup Champions the Chicago Blackhawks.
Chicago is always a tough team to play against, even more so at home than on the road. The Blackhawks are 1-1-1 this season, not exactly the same blistering pace they set off to at the start of last season. Still, the Hawks are a very tough team to play against. United Center has proven to be a tough barn for visiting teams: The Blackhawks are 123-46-22 at home since the 2008-09 season. So playing at the Madhouse on Madison is no small feat for any team.
Islanders captain John Tavares feels that the playoff experience from last year, playing bot at the Coliseum and in Pittsburgh, has helped the Islanders prepare for playing in a loud building like they will tonight. “Playing against a great team like Pittsburgh in the playoffs last year was a great challenge. We really stepped up and went at them and took in what the playoffs are about. I think we have to go in tomorrow and have a similar mindset that we can compete with any team in the league. We can’t be watching them — we’ve got to focus on our play and not make it easy on them.”
So the Islanders have to have that mindset if they want to come away with points tonight. The Hawks are a good team, and can be very intimidating, especially when playing at home. If the Islanders can get over that intimidation factor, they will be just fine and be able to come away with points tonight.
Another factor of note for tonight’s game is who the Islanders will have starting in goal. It was announced earlier that the Islanders will be starting Kevin Poulin in net tonight against the Hawks. This is going to be a real tough test for Poulin in the nets. It’s his first start of the season, and has played in 21 games in his career, with a record of 7-9-0-1 with a 2.76 GAA and a .912 SV percentage. Some pretty decent numbers for a guy who hasn’t seen much ice time.
It will be a tough test though, as the Hawks average about 3.33 goals per game so far this year, seventh best in the NHL. We all know by now the Hawks can score, so it’s going to be a good, solid early-season test for both Poulin and the Islanders defense. If the Islanders should fail to pick up any points tonight, it’s not all that big a deal. It’s only the fourth game of the season, so there should be no reason to hit the panic button if it’s a loss.
This will truly be a good early season test for this Islanders hockey club. If they play the way they have in the first three games of the year, the team will be just fine.