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Five for Five: A Different Animal

New for the 2019-20 season for Isles Blog, our Rob Taub each Monday will give you his thoughts on five important things to key on for that week’s games for the New York Islanders.

There’s a theme that comes with the task ahead this week for the Isles, and no it’s not that all three of their opponents are each a different member of the animal kingdom.

What it is, is that the opposition — Predators, Bruins, Ducks — all pose a unique challenge. Nashville is at the bottom of the Central Division but is led by star forward Matt Duchene; the Bruins just continue to win and reign over the Atlantic; while Anaheim always seems to give the Isles fits, particularly goaltender John Gibson.

The Isles head into this week riding high off a clean sweep of three Atlantic Division opponents. They secured all four points down in the Sunshine State before beating Buffalo in OT at the Coliseum last Saturday afternoon. The victory also marked one of the best regular-season performances in the young career of Anthony Beauvillier.

“He’s learning that there’s going to be a game where you’re not feeling it but you can help in so many other ways,” Trotz said following the win. Beauvillier recorded three points, including the overtime winner past Sabres netminder Linus Ullmark. “He’s done that. He doesn’t let himself get in his own way.”

Winning against the Sabres extended the Islanders’ streak of not having lost at regulation at home to a remarkable 62 days and gave them their eighth straight win on Coliseum ice. And as Jordan Eberle put it, the building continues to be a big advantage for him and his teammates.

“It’s a fun place to play at the Coli,” Eberle said. “Guys get up for it.”

One of the unfortunate things to come out of Saturday’s win was forward Michael Dal Colle leaving the game due to injury after the first period, one which he opened the game’s scoring. His absence — hopefully not too long — could allow for Tom Kuhnhackl to get back into the mix. Kuhnhackl, who’s been out since late October with a leg injury, was just recalled from Bridgeport this morning after a short conditioning stint.

So Kuhnhackl’s return provides an opportunity, but there are some other things to be on the lookout for this week. Here’s five of them:

1. The response from Mathew Barzal.

Late in the game against Buffalo, Barzal made a mental error — taking an unnecessary penalty — that allowed the Sabres to tie the game and force overtime. Trotz was furious with his 22-year-old star and made it known when he benched him to start the overtime. Barzal was able to get on for the extra session but for a very short amount of time. And after the game, his head coach let him have it and didn’t mince words.

The question now is how will Barzal react to being singled out personally. Brock Nelson received the same treatment for his mistake-ridden game way back earlier this year and responded with some of his most productive games in the aftermath. Now it’s Barzal’s turn. Hopefully being reamed out brings out his best and adds some extra fire for his teammates.

2. Jordan Eberle keeps racking up points.

Eberle has quietly been re-emerging for the Isles as of late. With seven points in his last seven games, he’s made up for the time he missed due to injury. The Isles were carried somewhat by the second line in Eberle’s absence. But now that Eberle looks similar to the player that the team and fans witnessed last spring, the Isles can begin to — if they haven’t done already — take the pressure off that unit and throw it on his shoulders. The Islanders’ attack is much stronger with a consistent Eberle and it needs to stay that way.

3. Thomas Greiss building off his start in Florida.

The goalie rotation continues to stay intact, but whenever Greiss gets the nod this week, hopefully, he’s found his groove again. That groove should have come in the form of allowing just one-goal on 33 shots in a 4-1 win last Thursday. Greiss in that game looked his most comfortable after a few clunkers in his past five games. Now with 11 wins on the year and still sporting a .932 SV%, Greiss hopefully has returned to his pre-Thanksgiving form.

4. Getting even with the Bruins.

The Isles are 11-1-0 against the Atlantic this year, but they haven’t faced the Bruins yet. The word “measuring stick” doesn’t get thrown around often, this game though screams it. Not just because it’s a showdown between the two of the best teams in the league, or because it could be a potential playoff matchup. But because the Islanders haven’t bested Boston since they won Jack Capuano’s last game behind the bench at TD Garden back in January 2017. If that’s not enough for the Isles to be up for this one, then nothing is. They’re due to finally beat the B’s and they need to do it in convincing fashion.

5. National TV spotlight.

First off, it should be noted that Barry Trotz’s club won all three games last season when televised nationally, both in the U.S. and across Canada. Thursday’s matchup in Boston though marks the first time this year the Islanders will be playing on the national stage. It’s one of the two games they’ll get on NBCSN — the other being the first time they face number-one pick Jack Hughes and the Devils next month.

So far this season, the Isles have thrown all the predictions about them back in the faces of national outlets and pundits. Thursday is another chance to stick it to all the naysayers and get the recognition they rightfully deserve.

Follow me on Twitter at @RTaub_





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