Hockey fever has officially made its long-awaited return to Long Island.
There's a buzz and a roar around these New York Islanders, a sense of optimism and exuberance that has been missing from this region, really since 2002, when the Isles shocked the hockey world, earning the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference and giving the Coliseum faithful a reason to believe once again.
This new-found excitement will culminate tomorrow night at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum when the New York Islanders take on Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals.
For perhaps the first time in years, the great fans of this team, not the Islanders' marketing staff, have staged an effort to generate electricity at an Isles' home game. It's no coincidence this all comes at a time when New York has been playing its most phenomenal hockey since this rebuilding process began.
In order to show our sincere appreciation for the Islanders, it has been requested that all fans planning on attending Saturday night's game wear white in a joint effort to "white out the red" (a moniker on the Capitals' "Rock the Red" slogan) in support of the players, coaches and management of this wonderful organization, in which the fans have invested so much.
As far as the game is concerned, this will be yet another tough challenge for these youthful Islanders, but as has been a recent theme, they're up to the task.
While the Caps' roster may look intimidating on paper (and it does), New York can take comfort in knowing they've scored more goals than Washington has this season.
Yes, the Capitals may have Ovechkin, Backstrom and Semin, but the Isles have John Tavares, Matt Moulson and Michael Grabner and are fully capable of matching their opponent's offense, goal for goal.
The Islanders have also been getting strong play from their blueliners, who, despite their inexperience, have been nothing short of impressive. With key defenders such as Radek Martinek and Milan Jurcina out of the lineup, Travis Hamonic, Andrew MacDonald and Ty Wishart have provided stability in the defensive zone.
Another fact that cannot be ignored is that Al Montoya has made the most of his opportunity, giving New York a chance to win every time he's played. He made several key stops last night in Philadelphia, and without his strong performance, the Isles don't tie the score late in the game, because that Flyer lead is much wider.
The New York Islanders have beaten some elite teams this season, and they've been able to do that because all the talent is there. Tomorrow night, the difference between a win and a loss will be whether or not the Isles have the necessary compete level in order to use their talent as an advantage.
Who Will Win?
Players to Watch
Washington is a team with a lot of speed, and the Islanders will need to find a way to neutralize that aspect of the opposition's game. That's where Grabner comes in. He needs to use his speed to generate scoring chances, whether the Isles are on even-strength, shorthanded or on the power play. He needs to have a big game, plain and simple. I say he will.
Okposo has been struggling over the last few games, but as the team continues to improve, so will Kyle. Playing in front of what should be a pumped up home crowd tomorrow night, I think he'll respond rather positively, and should the Islanders beat the Capitals, he'll be one of the reasons why.
"A-Mac" has been the most underrated Islanders defensemen this season and is arguably in the same category among all other blueliners in the league. His responsibility on both ends of the ice has been an invaluable asset for New York and going up against a Caps' offense that is potentially explosive, the Isles need him to step up.
I will be at the game tomorrow night, wearing white, of course. I'll be in Section 324, so feel free to stop by.
Until then, let's go Islanders.
Comments are welcome.