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Game 45: Devils @ NY Islanders

The New Jersey Devils aren't far from Newark, but they won't be there tonight - they will be at the Nassau Coliseum to take on the worst team in the league: the New York Islanders. Last night, they ground out a win and benefited from the rulebook.

Dominik at Lighthouse Hockey already has a preview of this game from the Islanders perspective. Expect Yann Danis in net again tonight, the team will honor the milestones of Doug Weight and Bill Guerin before the game, and he, at least wants Mike Mottau's head. The hit on Nielsen was not forgotten. has a preview from the Associated Press already up, mentioning that Scott Clemmensen is the likely starter for the Devils tonight. Interesting. According to Gulitti last night, Sutter hadn't decided on the starter today. Chere postulates whether or not Weekes will be the #1 goalie anytime soon. I just think that this is the second game of a back-to-back set and Clemmensen will get the start just because of that. We saw that happen last weekend: Weekes started in the first game, Clemmensen got the second one. Simple as that, really. I can understand the AP writer's assumption - it's a fair guess. Of course, if Sutter picks Weekes, I think Chere's question becomes more valid.

And before I get into it further, a little self-promotion is in order. I will be a guest on Hockey Night on Long Island this afternoon. I will be discussing the game at hand tonight, offering a preview from the Devils' perspective, what's up with Brendan Shanahan, and whatever else the hosts would like to discuss. It should be a good time and I recommend it. Even if you end up thinking I have a voice for writing. It is the only NY Islanders talk show online, so your choices otherwise are limited. The episode begins at 3:30 PM EST.

It'll be interesting discussing the game tonight on the show. I'm actually concerned about tonight for two reasons. Yes, concerned about the Islanders, the team who has not won a game in 2009 so far.

First, the Devils lost at home to Atlanta 4-0 back on January 8. Atlanta was one of the worst, if not the worst teams, on defense; and they're sitting near the bottom of the league too. Sobering proof that just because a team is having a bad season, doesn't mean they are an easy 2 points. They did well enough against Boston before falling 2-1; they kept it close against their rivals, the Rangers, 2-1, in the past week. Sure, you may argue that "well enough" just means "not abjectly horrible." Still, who's to say they won't come out flying?

That all said, it doesn't change the fact that, by the numbers, the Islanders are a bad team. They are 26th in goals per game with an average of 2.48 per game; scoring a whopping 109 goals total and 61 in even strength. In comparison, the Devils have scored 91 in even strength situations as part of their total of 130. While Mark Streit has been excellent for the Islanders, leading their team in scoring and playing a ton of minutes on the blueline, the team defense is miserable.

2008 - Mark Streit 44 8 25 33 -2 40 7 1 0 0 86 9.3

Teams have teed up on their goalies all season. The defense allows an average of 32.8 shots against per game, 28th in the league. and team allows an average of 3.58 goals against per game. With Joey MacDonald on the injury list with Rick DiPietro, the Isles have called on Yann Danis to be the man. He was all right in his last two games. Yet with the signing of Wade Dubielewicz, it's clear the team doesn't want to fully rely on Danis right now. Update, Isles actually don't get Wade Dubielewicz, so I hope the team thinks Danis can be the man! (h/t Dom at Lighthouse Hockey via Chris Botta) Regardless, the point is that this team has been bleeding goals.

Yet, I saw the same story with Atlanta, and that game went all kinds of awful for the Devils. Also: don't discount the Islanders special teams: they have a decent power play unit, running at 17.4% effective - good for 18th in the league. Their penalty kill is pretty good, sitting at the 12th best in the league at 82.4% (better than New Jersey!). While the Devils have been perfect on the penalty kill on this road trip, they don't need to continue to test it against the Islanders. In other words, the Devils have at least need to stop tripping guys.

The second reason has to do with a comment made by Blez after the Atlanta loss. He thought that the Devils looked so poor as of late (then) because they were pretty banged up, playing some physical games in such a short timespan. I looked at the issue of hits in depth, he clarified what he meant, and, well, I figured he may be onto something. And it comes into play tonight.

Against LA, the Devils got out hit by the Kings 19-36, a total of 55 hits thrown. The Devils played in Anaheim the next night and didn't look so good despite a close score. Before that Dallas game, the Devils played in St. Louis wherein the game featured 47 hits (Devils outhit 23-24) - another physical game. Last night, the Devils outhit the Blue Jackets 34-30, a total of 64 hits in that game. So based on recent history, the Devils may not look too good on the Island tonight. Their bodies may be just a little too sore to get up and fly right on the ice.

Then again, this theory breaks down when you look at the last two back-to-back sets prior to St. Louis-Dallas. The Devils lost to the Penguins on Dec. 26 in a game with only 24 total hits (Devils led 15-9 in hits); but they won the next night at MSG in a very physical game featuring 66 total hits (Devils outhit 30-36). Before that, the Leafs won in a shootout in a contest totaling 57 hits (Devils led 29-28 in hits); then went on to win in Buffalo the next night. So being hit a lot in the first game, or going into the second game to be hit a lot right after a game, may not necessarily be a loss for the Devils.

Still, the larger point is that we really don't know what to expect from the Devils tonight. If they come out, put good pressure on the Islanders defense and Danis, come out with the first goal, and start to dictate the play, that would be ideal. If the Devils let the Islanders make most of the moves, wait for that counter attacking play, and take a few dumb penalties to start, it could be a long night.

As always, feel free to leave a comment before, during, and after the game. I'll probably drop in periodically to leave one of my own, I invite you all to leave yours as well. Again, check out Hockey Night on Long Island this afternoon - if only to hear what I think about the game. As always, keep it clean, keep it relevant, and keep it Jersey.