Let's start this preview with the biggest news: Evgeni Nabokov is injured and has been for a while. He has started practicing, but does not appear to be ready to play against the Sharks. So, Nabby misses a chance to play against his former team again. He missed his chance last time the Islanders and Sharks squared off - all the way back on October 29, 2011.
Since this ruins what was one of the most anticipated games of the season, it begs the question: What story lines are left in this game for me to write about? Here are my top five Nabby-less stories to watch:
5. The Islanders are bad
Despite making the playoffs last season, the Islanders look like they're getting back to business as usual. New York is currently sitting in 8th place in the Metropolitan division, 6 points back of Columbus. If their current 10-game losing streak continues much longer, the Islanders' last place spot in the Metropolitan division is almost as sure as strawberry's last place spot in Neapolitan ice cream. Only Buffalo has fewer points than they do in the entire NHL.
4. John Tavares is awesome, though
The former #1 overall pick in 2009 has blossomed into an elite forward. He's tearing it up with 34 points (12-22-34) in 31 games played this year, and has 128 points in the 130 previous games. From a fancy stats perspective: he does get a LOT of offensive zone shifts, but seems to make the most of it, as he has the best relative Corsi among Islanders forwards. If the Couture line can shut him down tonight, you have to like the Sharks chances to win.
New York recently waived Pierre-Marc Bouchard in order to add Ryan Strome, the AHL's point leader, to the team. The former #5 overall pick from the 2011 draft was originally supposed to join the Isles in San Jose, but now apparently won't join the team until tomorrow. It remains to be seen where he's used in the lineup, but there's little doubt New York would like to eventually pencil him in as #2 center behind Tavares for years to come. It's a big loss for New York not to get him in the lineup tonight; you know Strome would have scored his first NHL goal against the Sharks.
2. The Sharks never traded Clowe for Grabner
Okay, this might not be one of the top stories for other media outlets, but it is for me. Last year, in my first Sharks-related FTF post, I floated the idea of acquiring New York's Michael Grabner for then-Shark Ryane Clowe. While Islanders fans weren't too receptive to the idea, I still think it could have been a possible option. Especially considering how much the other two New York area teams spent to acquire him. Grabner appears to be struggling a bit this season with only 2 goals and 6 assists in 28 games. Meanwhile, the Sharks have the scoring touch and speed Grabner would have brought thanks to the additions of Tomas Hertl and Matt Nieto.
1. San Jose needs to end their losing streak against Eastern Conference teams
Sure, it's only two games. But, c'mon, it's embarrassing. Or, it will be if San Jose actually loses tonight. New York is on the second game of back-to-backs after losing 5-2 to Anaheim last night. The Sharks chances look good, but then again, San Jose lost to Buffalo.
Tonight is not the night to play down to the competition.
|8-18-5, 21 points
||19-6-5, 43 points|
|8th in Metropolitan||2nd in Pacific
7:30PM PST | SAP Center | San Jose, California
Projected Sharks Lineup
Projected Islanders Lineup
Prediction: Sharks win 4-1. Goals by Burns, Marleau, Sheppard and Irwin. Meanwhile, Evgeni Nabokov takes this opportunity to play Jamie Baker at ping pong again, and wins that game 21-13.