ISLANDERS RECORD: 2-2-0.
JETS RECORD: 2-1-1.
THEME: Get back on the ladder and climb over the .500 mark.
PLUS: Offensively, a pair of contrasting forwards have been outstanding. Game in and game out, Michael Grabner has been the most threatening sniper, creating chances galore, if not the goals to go with them. Newcomer Keith Aucoin continues to make his acquisition by Garth Snow look good. He's just what the bottom-six needs; a smart, creative forward who plays within himself. He scored both goals in the 4-2 loss at Boston. On defense, Brian Strait has been a revelation. His forte is playing a simple, error-free game.
MINUS: For starters, the Isles blew what loomed as a promising lead in the game and entered the third period tied at two. Too bad the lads couldn't sustain and take another lead. Defensively, the club forfeits the puck too often in its defensive zone. Furthermore, the club needs its best forwards -- John Tavares, Matt Moulson, Kyle Okposo -- to produce more consistently to augment the likes of Aucoin.
EVEN: Rick DiPietro's long-anticipated return may not have resulted in a win, but his stock remained solid enough to warrant another start sooner rather than later. He's still a bit rusty in terms of passes to teammates but that part of his game should improve with time. Tavares is playing a relentless game, setting up linemates on a regular basis. Sooner or later -- hopefully sooner -- it will pay dividends.
CHALLENGE: Winnipeg is the NHL's surprise team and most recently emerged from an upset victory over Pittsburgh that has the town abuzz. Coach Claude Noel credits the MTS Centre crowd with being like a seventh player on the ice for his Jets. Isles must counter that with a calm, mistake-free game.
FAN COMMENT: From Michael Leboff, Rockville Centre, N.Y. "Over the past two games -- win in Toronto, loss in Boston -- the Islanders played mostly positive hockey along with one particularly terrible period. A 60-minute effort will be required against the Jets."
THREE KEYS TO BEATING WINNIPEG:
1. Be aggressive in front of own net and create smart counterattacks.
2. Somehow get John Tavares on the scoresheet.
3. Playing in front of his hometown crowd, Travis Hamonic must be at his shut-down best to neutralize Winnipeg's high-powered offense.
THREE MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
1. Islanders penalty-killers vs. Jets power play: Jack Capuano's PK is one of only two teams that have yet to relinquish a goal. Keeping the streak alive will be difficult with such PP aces as Dustin Byfuglien, Evander Kane and Tobias Enstrom on the Jets PP.
2. Dustin Byfuglien vs. John Tavares: Big Buff against Johnny T; that's the marquee match-up. Byfuglien is big but mistake-prone. Tavarest must exploit the weakness.
3. Ondrej Pavelec vs. Evgeni Nabokov: Each goalie is a notorious game-stealer. Nabby has been the Isles best player. But can he beat another hot hand?
MAVEN'S RAVIN': Playing .500 hockey ain't the worst thing for the Isles but a statement win in Winnipeg would make it easier to take Cappy's crew seriously as a playoff contender. If the top two lines can deliver along with a solid D, a win should be available.