Game 21 Preview: New Jersey Devils at New York Islanders

This is Zach Parise fighting for a puck. Let's hope he and the Devils find more success in doing this in the third period (and the other two) this afternoon on Long Island. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

The Time:  3:00 PM EDT

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+2 (Devils feed), MSG+ (Islanders feed); Radio - 660 AM WFAN

The Matchup:  The New Jersey Devils (11-8-1) at the New York Islanders (5-10-4)

The Last Devils Game: The Devils returned to the Prudential Center after a five-game road trip to take on the Columbus Blue Jackets.  Columbus had the worst record in the league, but they weren't the worst team in hockey and they proved it in Newark.  While the Devils went up 1-0 in the second period, Columbus enjoyed the better run of play in the third period and heavily out-shot the Devils 17-3.  Also: they equalized when a puck bounced off Jared Boll's skate and in.     Overtime was necessary, but no one scored there, so a shootout was needed. There, the Devils out-classed the Jackets and ended the evening with a 2-1 win.   My recap of the game is here.

The Last Islanders Game: Having been shutout of the last two games, the Islanders hosted the Philadelphia Flyers with the Isles faithful hoping they'd score at least one goal.  Despite the downer of allowing a goal on Philly's first shot, the Islanders played racked up 3 in the first period. Kyle Okposo got his first and second of the season, while giving a primary assist to Michael Grabner's tally in the third. Alas, the Flyers clawed their way back into the game with a goal each in the following periods.  In overtime, Danny Briere scored his second of the game to hand the Islanders their third straight loss, 4-3.   Dominik has this recap of the game over at Lighthouse Hockey.

The Goal:  Stop getting rolled over in the third period.  Unless the Devils are up 4-0 or 4-1 or better going into the third period, I do not want to see the Islanders roll through the Devils lineup in the final 20 minutes of regulation.  This has happened in each of the Devils' last six games and it's only served to make the game more difficult at best.   I don't think much of the Islanders, but I do expect a good effort from them.  The Devils need to be mentally prepared to compete for a full 60 minutes.   I don't want to sit through another third period where the Isles are going to take control of the game.  Neither does Peter DeBoer or the players, I imagine.  It'll be up to them to stop the proverbial third period bleeding.

For the opposition's take on this game, please check out Lighthouse Hockey.  I have more to say about this game after the jump.

 

While I didn't think Columbus was (or is) the worst team in the NHL, I do think there's a stronger argument for the Islanders to claim that ignoble title.  Like Columbus, the percentages aren't in their favor at 5-on-5 play per Behind the Net.  They're shooting at a mere 6.6%, the second lowest in the league; whilst putting up a team save percentage of 90%, the third worst in the league.  However, the Isles aren't that great but not bad at putting up shots on net with a SF/60 rate of 28.3 and they're downright leaky when it comes to allowing shots with a SA/60 rate of 31.9, the third highest in the league.  So it's not just bad luck with the percentages, they've been allowing much more rubber get at their goaltenders than doing it themselves.

Goaltending has certainly been an issue. After all, this is a team that has allowed at least 3 goals in every game in November so far.  While Columbus' issue was running with a goaltender despite terrible numbers, the Islanders' have had injury problems with goaltenders who may be good and have replaced them with goaltenders who are not good.  Already the Isles have had four goalies get time: Al Montoya (92.6 Sv%, 6 GP), Evgeni Nabokov (91.0 Sv%, 8 GP), Rick DiPietro (88.5 Sv%, 7 GP), and Anders Nilsson (84.9 Sv%, 2 GP).  Nabokov and Montoya have been hurt and Nilsson was called up at a time where the Isles were getting creamed.  The Isles will get some relief in this department as the team has brought Montoya off injured reserve per this post by Kevin Schultz at Islanders Point Blank.  It is expected that Montoya and DiPietro will split the home-and-home.  Once he gets into a groove, Montoya may help this team in a department they sorely need help in.   Let's hope that does not happen this weekend.

More importantly than goaltending, the Isles team has been on the wrong side of the possession game at even strength all season long.  Whereas the Blue Jackets were above 50% Fenwick in close-score situations, the Isles are sixth from the bottom at 46.35%.   When you're usually defending in close score situations, it's not the sign of a good team unless they have something else going for them.  What's worse is that they're not at 50% in any team situation; their highest percentage is exactly 50% Fenwick when they're down by two goals in a game.  With bad percentages, a lack of talent depth, and being on the wrong side of possession in nearly all situations, it's fair to say that the Isles aren't a good hockey team.   I'm sure the Isles will get up for this game, especially after only losing in OT to a division opponent, but don't expect the Islanders to be anything but spoilers this season.


GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG SOG PCT
2011-12 - John Tavares 19 8 8 16 -3 10 4 0 1 68 11.8
2011-12 - P.A. Parenteau 19 3 11 14 -6 15 0 0 1 35 8.6
2011-12 - Matt Moulson 19 6 5 11 -1 2 1 0 2 41 14.6
2011-12 - Michael Grabner 19 6 4 10 -2 4 1 0 0 41 14.6
2011-12 - Frans Nielsen 19 4 6 10 0 0 0 0 1 31 12.9

That said, there are players that the Devils will have to concerned with.  OK, the Isles don't have a killer line together like Prospal, Carter, and Nash.  They do have the young talent that has been effective at times.  If the offense is going to come from the Isles, it's likely going to come from their top two lines. John Tavares has been the top forward on this team, be it in points, shots on net, goals, and minutes (18:39 ATOI).  Per Behind the Net, he also faces very tough competition regularly, so his -3.44 isn't too bad.  It's also the fifth highest on a team that features one Isle a positive on-ice Corsi rate: Franse Nielsen at a whopping 0.89.   Tavares usually skates centers P-A Parenteau and Matt Moulson.   Presuming Jack Capuano matches lines, I suspect the Adam Henrique line is going to see this group quite a bit.   Their second unit isn't anything to ignore either.  Michael Grabner and Neilsen are both quick and fairly good with the puck.  Kyle Okposo is a very good winger who finally got on the board on Wednesday against Philly.  Perhaps he has "gotten going," for lack of a better phrase.  

The Islanders' top six isn't bad and if anything is driving their offense, it'll be them.   Thankfully, they won't be going into this game looking for just a goal as they snapped a two game shutout streak against Philadelphia.  Their bottom six should see a mix-up, which makes sense as it's not really all that good.  Blake Comeau was placed on waivers on Thursday, as reported by Kevin Schultz at Islanders Point Blank.  Believe it or not, no NHL team was interested in putting together a deal to acquire a 25-year old winger making $2.5 million with no points in 16 games.  Schultz' post lists the possibilities as who could join the likes of Marty Reasoner and Jay Pandolfo on a third line in replacement.    By the by, the Islanders have a line that features Marty Reasoner and Jay Pandolfo in 2011.

Speaking of changes on the bottom six, the Devils sent Nick Palmieri down to Albany on Thursday as reported by Tom Gulitti.   I can't say he did much to not deserve such a move.  Hopefully, some prime time in the AHL can help get his game back on track.  This should keep Mattias Tedenby as the third line left winger for some time.  In conjunction with that move along with the Islanders' bottom six, I want the Ryan Carter line to smash the Isles' third line if they get that match-up.   Tedenby's speed at the least should give Pandolfo issues all afternoon; and both Pandolfo and Reasoner have been horrid in possession this season.  As for the rest of the team, I'd expect the same lineup from Wednesday's game save for Johan Hedberg starting instead of Brodeur as per this post by Colin Stephenson at NJ.com and Brad Mills possibly coming in as a twelfth forward.

Speaking of speed giving the Isles issues, I really hope the Devils forwards are up for hustling right at the Islanders defense. They will find success if they do, since their blueline is not good.   Beyond their top minute producer of Mark Streit (23:53 ATOI, 2 G, 9 A), nobody on the Islanders blueline is particularly noteworthy.  Travis Hamonic and Andy MacDonald stick together and, well, get beaten.   Steve Staios, for some reason, stays with Streit; and Milan Jurcina and Mike Mottau get beaten as a third pairing.  Not to disrespect the Isles, but the Devils offense should be able to find success going after these guys.   The only way I want to see the Devils only put up 25 or less shots is if they scored several goals and have no real reason to keep attacking.

I will give the Islanders this: they are decent at special teams.   Perhaps that's necessary since they've been so awful at even strength.   In terms of success rates, the Isles' power play (15.9%) and penalty kill (80.0%) both sit around twentieth in the league.   In digging a little deeper, the Isles are well disciplined as they have only been shorthanded 70 times this season, the fifth fewest total in the league.   However, so is their opposition as they have had only 63 power play chances, the fewest in the league.    According to Behind the Net's situational stats, they have a good SF/60 rate in 5-on-4 situations at 50.6; and their shot prevention in 4-on-5 situations is almost as good as New Jersey's with a SA/60 rate of 44.6.  If it wasn't for some unlucky shooting percentages and poor goaltending, then the Isles' special teams would rate that much better.   The Devils would be quite wise to keep this game at the one situation the Islanders aren't decent at all in: 5-on-5 play.

Those sum up my thoughts on today's game.  What are yours?  How do you see the first half of this home-and-home set playing out? Will the Devils be able to quell the Islanders' top two lines? Will the Devils be able slice through the Islanders' defense like so many teams have done this season?  Will the Devils play a good third period? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about today's game in the comments. Thank you for reading.

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