WATCH LIVE: Islanders host Blackhawks at Nassau Coliseum

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Thursday night’s matchup between the New York Islanders and Chicago Blackhawks with coverage beginning at 6:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Blackhawks will try to rebound after yet another outdoor defeat, as the Islanders look to continue their pursuit of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Islanders have 44 games remaining this season, 18 of which will be played at Nassau Coliseum. The team left the Coliseum for Barclays Center at the end of the 2014-15 season. They plan to move into a new facility at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York, for the start of the 2021-22 season.

The Islanders have been one of the biggest surprises in the Eastern Conference and are very much alive in the playoff race. New York has won of seven of their last eight games, including four straight.

There’s been no sophomore slump for Mathew Barzal, who took home the Calder Trophy last season behind 85 points and 63 assists, which were fifth most in the league. He has been particularly hot lately, riding a five-game point streak (6G, 3A).

Meanwhile, Chicago has scored first in eight of their past 10 games, after allowing the first goal in each of their previous 11 games.

Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton was a second round draft pick by the Islanders in 2003 (by then Isles GM Mike Milbury) and played all 57 games of his NHL career in an Islanders sweater. He was also the former captain of the team’s AHL affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Chicago Blackhawks at New York Islanders
Where: Nassau Coliseum
When: Thursday, Jan. 3, 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Islanders-Blackhawks stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BLACKHAWKS
Brandon SaadJonathan ToewsDominik Kahun
Artem AnisimovDylan StromePatrick Kane
Alex DeBrincatDavid KampfDylan Sikura
Brendan PerliniMarcus KrugerAndreas Martinsen

Duncan KeithErik Gustafsson
Gustav ForslingBrent Seabrook
Carl DahlstromConnor Murphy

Starting goalie: Collin Delia

ISLANDERS
Anthony Beauvillier – Mathew Barzal – Josh Bailey
Anders LeeBrock NelsonJosh Ho-Sang
Michael Dal Colle – Leo Komarov – Tom Kuhnhackl
Matt MartinCasey CizikasCal Clutterbuck

Nick LeddyJohnny Boychuk
Adam PelechRyan Pulock
Devon ToewsScott Mayfield

Starting goalie: Robin Lehner

Backstrom, Kopitar, Laine, Skinner highlight NHL All-Star Last Men In vote

The players representing the four divisions in the 2019 NHL All-Star Game been announced, but the full rosters are still to be determined.

New this year is the “Last Men In” vote where fans will be able to select another forward or defenseman for each division. There are plenty of worthy names who did not make the initial list, so here is another shot for the likes of Brayden Point, Jeff Skinner, Nicklas Backstrom, Patrik Laine, and Anze Kopitar to find their way to San Jose.

Voting opens Thursday at 12 p.m. ET and closes Jan. 10 at 11:59 p.m. ET. Fans able to choose as few as one player and a maximum of four players per ballot. Maximum number of ballots casts in a day for each fan is 10. (Fans can vote at NHL.com or on a mobile interactive ballot on the NHL App.)

[NHL reveals 2019 All-Star Game rosters]

Atlantic Division
Boston Bruins: Patrice Bergeron
Buffalo Sabres: Jeff Skinner
Detroit Red Wings: Dylan Larkin
Florida Panthers: Aleksander Barkov
Montreal Canadiens: Shea Weber
Ottawa Senators: Mark Stone
Tampa Bay Lightning: Brayden Point
Toronto Maple Leafs: Morgan Rielly

Metropolitan Division
Carolina Hurricanes: Teuvo Teravainen
Columbus Blue Jackets: Nick Foligno
New Jersey Devils: Kyle Palmieri
New York Islanders: Anders Lee
New York Rangers: Mats Zuccarello
Philadelphia Flyers: Jakub Voracek
Pittsburgh Penguins: Kris Letang
Washington Capitals: Nicklas Backstrom

Central Division
Chicago Blackhawks: Jonathan Toews
Colorado Avalanche: Gabriel Landeskog
Dallas Stars: Tyler Seguin
Minnesota Wild: Zach Parise
Nashville Predators: Filip Forsberg
St. Louis Blues: Vladimir Tarasenko
Winnipeg Jets: Patrik Laine

Pacific Division
Anaheim Ducks: Ryan Getzlaf
Arizona Coyotes: Oliver Ekman-Larsson
Calgary Flames: Mark Giordano
Edmonton Oilers: Leon Draisaitl
Los Angeles Kings: Anze Kopitar
San Jose Sharks: Logan Couture
Vancouver Canucks: Brock Boeser
Vegas Golden Knights: Jonathan Marchessault

The 2019 NHL All-Star Skills Competition will take place on Friday, Jan. 25 (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN) and the 2019 NHL All-Star Game will be on Saturday, Jan. 26 (8 p.m. ET, NBC).

MORE: Ovechkin chooses rest over 2019 All-Star Game

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Maple Leafs’ Tavares to face Islanders for first time

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TORONTO — John Tavares used to be a mainstay of the New York Islanders, eventually becoming their captain.

The 28-year-old center, however, will be on the opposing team for the first time in his career Saturday night when the Islanders visit the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Scotiabank Arena.

“I assume it will be strange for sure at some level,” said Tavares, who signed as a free agent with the Maple Leafs during the offseason. “It’s really hard to say because I’ve never done it before.”

Tavares had a strong warmup for the reunion with his former team, scoring two goals Friday night when the Maple Leafs defeated the Blue Jackets 4-2 in Columbus.

The Islanders also are coming off a win, overcoming 2-0 and 3-1 deficits at home to defeat the Ottawa Senators 6-3 on Friday.

Tavares had 272 goals and 349 assists in 669 games with the Islanders and was their captain from 2013-18.

In 38 games with Toronto, he has 26 goals, and is on a pace that would surpass his career-best 38 goals, set in 2014-15.

“He’s got a stick like a crowbar,” Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. “He’s heavy, heavy on it. He’s got elite hockey sense.”

“He’s getting to the net, he’s making plays,” said Maple Leafs right winger Mitch Marner, who assisted on both goals by Tavares Friday and scored one himself. “I think everyone knew when he came here how good of a one-on-one player he was. I think when he gets it, it’s just for me to try to find the open space and let him go to work on the people he’s going to work on.”

It figures to be an emotional night in Toronto Saturday.

“You’re in one place so long and you give so much to one place,” Tavares said. “I’m sure there will be many emotions. At the same time, I have to approach it the best way I can, just like any other game. I have to do my best to help my team win and try to play my best and be as best prepared as I can.”

Tavares, who grew up in the Toronto area, has been an important addition to the Maples Leafs, who have matured into Stanley Cup contenders.

“Johnny meant so much to this organization and to us in the room, his friends and teammates,” Islanders left winger Anders Lee, now the team captain, told Newsday. “I think we’re all looking forward to playing the game and seeing him.”

Mathew Barzal had two goals and an assist on Friday for the Islanders, who have won five of their past six games. The Maple Leafs have won five in a row.

“I know he has a lot of good friends in our room,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “They do have a little bit of hurt. They understand it. But they’d like to have him as a teammate and he decided he didn’t need them as teammates anymore.”

The return theme works both ways. Former Maple Leafs, left winger Matt Martin and right winger Leo Komarov, both signed with the Islanders in the offseason, and former Maple Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello will be returning to their former home rink in Toronto.

Lamoriello became Islanders president of hockey operations after Tavares signed with Toronto.

Maple Leafs backup goaltender Garret Sparks got the start in Columbus Friday, which will set up No. 1 Frederik Andersen for the start on Friday.

Islanders goaltender Robin Lehnert stopped all 10 shots he faced after he took over in the second period from Thomas Greiss, who allowed three goals on 17 shots.

The Maple Leafs and Islanders were both playing their first game since Sunday.

Islanders right wingers Jordan Eberle (stiffness) and Cal Clutterbuck (lower body) did not play Friday.

Red Wings’ Kronwall delivers devastating, questionable hit on Islanders’ Lee

Sportsnet
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No one walks the clean hit/dirty hit tightrope like Niklas Kronwall.

There are several montages on YouTube of Kronwall Kronwalling opponents. Some of them are hard but clean hits. Others are, well, questionable at best and there’s another one to add to that column from Saturday night.

With the Detroit Red Wings up 2-0 in the first period, Kronwall lined up Anders Lee of the New York Islanders, who was picking up a loose puck on along the boards in the neutral zone. Like many of Kronwall’s hits, it was a devastating thump.

Here’s the hit:

Lee’s head appears to be the principal point of contact and he was forced to leave the game.

UPDATE: Lee did not come out to start the second period but returned later in the frame

The comments section is going to be full of, ‘Lee needs to keep his head up.’

That is true. The player has a responsibility to protect himself.

But what is also true is this: Just because a guy’s head is down doesn’t mean there’s free rein to pulverize his brain.

Kronwall had some time to change how he was going to hit Lee, either the angle or the magnitude of the force of it.

Josh Bailey went for retribution later in the period, first getting a slew foot in on Kronwall and then fighting Dylan Larkin.

Lee leads the Islanders with 11 goals and is tied with Josh Bailey for the most points with 22.

Time will tell, but you have to imagine that George Parros and the Department of Player Safety will give this one a long look.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Atmosphere on display as Islanders return to Nassau Coliseum

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UNIONDALE, N.Y. — The New York Islanders knew what to expect. As the players and staff drove home from Saturday morning’s skate at their practice facility not far from Nassau Coliseum, they saw fans already in the arena parking lot tailgating, preparing for the team’s return to the old barn on Hempstead Turnpike.

When the players hit the ice for warmups, the noise inside the building rose in a mostly-packed arena with Let’s Go Islanders chants belted out like the old days.

When Casey Cizikas broke a 2-2 tie 7:09 into the third period, completely erasing a 2-0 lead the Columbus Blue Jackets once had, the deafening roar of the Coliseum crowd evoked memories of the team’s 43-year run before moving to Barclays Center in 2015.

“It’s fun playing hockey when you go out there like that and there’s that energy, there’s that momentum,” said Islanders captain Anders Lee. “We knew it was going to be special.”

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Back for the first of 21 games this season, the Islanders returned to Long Island and to the Coliseum Saturday night. As part of a split schedule, the team is calling two arenas home this season.

Barclays Center has been since their rink since the 2015-16 season, but in an effort to find a permanent solution in “Islanders Country,” the team’s new ownership won the bid to build an arena near Belmont Park race track, which is set to open in time for the 2021-22 NHL season. While they wait, the team will play 61 of its home games over the next three seasons at the Coliseum, which has undergone a $165M renovation.

The Islanders have been back at the Coliseum since moving to Barclays, but the two preseason games couldn’t come close to the atmosphere that was inside the building during a memorable comeback win. 

There was a different energy inside, one that’s impossible to replicate at Barclays Center. The Islanders were back and supplied an another memory for the 13,917 in attendance to take away following a trip back to what was once dubbed “Fort Neverlose.”

Getty Images

It had been 1,316 days between meaningful Islanders games at the Coliseum. Cal Clutterbuck’s empty-net goal to seal Game 6 against the Washington Capitals in the first-round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs was the final one in the building before the move. 

The head coach on the other bench that game was Barry Trotz. He saw first-hand how the atmosphere provided by the fans in the Coliseum affected the players, which is why he started the line of Cizikas, Clutterbuck and Matt Martin, three of nine players who were on the ice that night against the Capitals. The trio brought their physical edge to the game’s opening shift, with both the fans and players feeding off each other’s energy.

Cizikas’ involvement was evident all night, and it was fitting that it was his goal that stood as the game winner and completed the comeback.

“I had a lot of emotions running through my body,” he said afterward. “I was more tired from screaming on the celebration than I was from the actual shift.”

***

Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella has coached a lot of games at the Coliseum, but none were more memorable than the ones he was involved with while coaching the New York Rangers. The division rivals are known for their spirited meetings that see the on-ice emotions spill over into the crowd.

“The things that were going on in the stands, it was better than the game sometimes,” Tortorella said. “When other teams come in here, they don’t experience that. That Ranger-Islander game, no matter what building — MSG or here — they’re a blast to play in. It’s when hockey was hockey. The stuff going on in the stands was just incredible.”

Tortorella and the Blue Jackets played in the original final regular season game at the Coliseum in April 2015, but there were no tears shed or final goodbyes given at the end of that game as the Islanders still had a playoff matchup against the Capitals awaiting them. The head coach was glad to be back three years later.

“This building has seen some tremendous games and some tremendous players have played in here,” he said. “I’m glad we’re the first team doing it with them because I do think when they’re charged up, the crowd’s charged up, I think it helps the visiting team, too.”

***

From the pre-game tailgating to the Let’s Go Islanders car honks in the parking lot to the YES YES YES chants to the appearances of franchise legends Clark Gillies, Bobby Nystrom and Ed Westfall, it was a nostalgic return on an emotional night. The players couldn’t stop talking about the atmosphere afterward, praising the fans and speaking glowingly about being able to be back on that Coliseum ice.

Martin is the second-longest tenured Islander behind Josh Bailey with 452 of his 584 career games coming with New York. He made his NHL debut on the Coliseum ice in 2010 and quickly made himself a fan favorite. It was a difficult decision for the franchise to watch him leave for Toronto, but when it was clear the Maple Leafs were looking to move him over the summer, it was pretty easy to see where he’d find a perfect fit and be welcomed back with open arms.

Being able to start Saturday’s night game and feed off the vibe in the arena was something Martin won’t forget.

“It’s a rambunctious group. It’s awesome,” said Martin. “They’re so fun to play in front of. … It’s the best building I’ve ever played in.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.