I won't lie - the New York Islanders are my Eastern Conference dark horse team. They have been for quite a few years. Their youth and talent has been very fun to watch and the team has matured greatly over the past few easons. Unfortunately, the Isles can also have lapses of horribleness. Last season they got into their first playoff trip since 2007 and gave the Penguins a little bit of trouble, so you know they have spunk, but right now that tenacity's being undone by a wonky goalie situation. Evgeni Nabokov has not played consistently well this season, going 5-5-3 with a .892 save percentage and a 3.30 GAA. Poor Anders Nilsson is currently in the middle of a trial by fire due to Nabokov being injured, losing in shootouts to the Washington Capitals (thanks to Alex Ovechkin) and the Pittsburgh Penguins (Sidney Crosby).
Nilsson's been playing well, the team has not. For the Blues the past two games, no one has been playing well. Brian Elliott got popped for four first period goals in San Jose, and Jaroslav Halak got the loss in San Jose. Both games saw the Blues backing off their usual tenacity-filled style of play, and boy, did they feel it. According to Ken Hitchcock, in an interview with Jeremy Rutherford, that wasn't supposed to happen. Hitch isn't happy:
"No coach is happy when your team is the one that does not initiate and set the tempo. No coach is happy. Especially when you do all the prep work and you get your team ready and you know what's coming, and then they kind of almost throw their sticks on the ice and say, 'OK, we're going to wade our way into this game.'"
It's pretty hard to tell which game that quote was referencing, honestly. Barret Jackman's mentioning of the Blues trying to be "too cute" automatically set off my alarm, which it probably shouldn't've this season. I've just been conditioned to worry whenever it seems that the team gets into believing the hype around them. This team doesn't seem to be doing that, so maybe it's just a couple of off games. It's still pretty good that they made it to the end of November before losing two games in a row, if you're one to look on the bright side.
Tonight is a bounce-back game for the Blues, and the Islanders would just like to win more consistently. In their last ten games, their record is 2-6-2, while the Blues have gone 7-3-0. This might be a tough one for the Islanders, and it shouldn't be difficult for St. Louis if they focus. But keep in mind that the Isles have hung with the Pens and the Caps their last two games - it's always a bad idea to count the little guy out.