The New York Islanders and Johnny Gaudreau were commonly linked together during the early days of the NHL’s offseason in July.
On Saturday night, they’ll finally get to share the ice together.
The Islanders will conclude a three-game homestand when they host Gaudreau and the Columbus Blue Jackets in a battle of Metropolitan Division rivals.
Both teams were off Friday after playing at home Thursday, when the Islanders fell to the Arizona Coyotes 2-0 and the Blue Jackets beat the Philadelphia Flyers 5-2.
The results were atypical for both teams over the first month of the season.
Despite not adding a proven goal-scorer such as Gaudreau to a team that finished 16 points out of the playoffs last season, the Islanders entered Friday tied for eighth in the NHL with 49 goals (3.27 per game) and are amid a 7-2-0 stretch in which they have recorded three multi-goal third-period comebacks.
That’s serious improvement over last season, when the Islanders ranked 23rd in the NHL at 2.87 goals per game and had just two third-period comebacks, both of the one-goal variety.
But the Islanders couldn’t muster their goal-scoring magic Thursday, when they were credited with just 24 shots as Coyotes goalie Karel Vejmelka posted the second shutout of his career. Arizona was credited with 17 blocked shots while New York had 23 missed shots.
“You can’t score if you don’t hit the net, that’s the bottom line.” Islanders head coach Lane Lambert said. “Seventeen attempts blocked and 23 missed shots. That’s too many.”
Gaudreau, the former Calgary Flames superstar and native of New Jersey, surprised observers by choosing the Blue Jackets in free agency instead of teams closer to home such as the Islanders, Flyers or New Jersey Devils. He reached a seven-year deal, $68.25 million deal that was expected to hasten the Blue Jackets’ rebuilding plan and vault them into the thick of the competitive Metropolitan race.
But the Blue Jackets, who have missed the past two playoffs and advanced beyond the first round just once in the franchise’s 21 seasons, will enter Saturday with eight points, tied for fewest in the NHL.
Gaudreau, who leads Columbus with six goals — all at home — and six assists, snapped a four-game goal-scoring drought Thursday, when he finished with three points. That was his best regular-season game since a four-point outing for the Flames against the Coyotes last Apr. 16.
“I like playing in front of these fans,” Gaudreau said. “It’s been a lot of fun playing in front of them. I’m enjoying my time here so far, so hopefully I can keep scoring here.”
The Blue Jackets will be without defensemen Zack Werenski, who could be lost for the season with a shoulder injury. Erik Gudbranson is day-to-day with an upper-body injury. The Blue Jackets also placed defenseman Nick Blankenburg and forwards Sean Kuraly and Jakub Voracek on injured reserve.
Islanders right winger Cal Clutterbuck returned to action Thursday after missing Tuesday’s game against the New York Rangers with an unspecified injury. He said Thursday he expects to continue playing through whatever it is that’s ailing him. Fellow fourth-liner Casey Cizikas, who was pulled after he appeared to hit his head in the third period Thursday, practiced Friday.
–Field Level Media