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New Jersey Devils vs New York Islanders: Game Preview #44

The most recent back-to-back set for the New Jersey Devils has them returning home from Boston to host the New York Islanders. This is the second really quality team in as many nights that the Devils will play. Will they be able to put up a better performance?

Kinkaid was brilliant back when they played at Barclays.
Kinkaid was brilliant back when they played at Barclays.
Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

This will mark the first time this season that the New Jersey Devils are playing host to the New York Islanders.  It should be an interesting one.

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Radio - WFAN 660 AM and 101.9 FM

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (15-21-7) vs the New York Islanders (26-13-1, SBN Blog: Lighthouse Hockey)

The Last Devils Game: Last night, the Devils traveled up to Boston where they went up against the always-dangerous Boston Bruins.  For the entirety of it, Boston thoroughly dominated the game.  Despite only trailing 1-0 after the first period, the Devils were outshot 18-3.  After the second period, now down 2-0 on the scoreboard, the Devils were down 29-7 in shots.  Boston dominated the control of play ceaselessly.  While having 7 shots through two periods, the Devils actually only had 4 for most of that time, getting a small flurry of shots near the end of the second period.  And despite being down 2-0 in the third period, when they should have been able to have more control of the run of play due to the opposition sitting back and defending their lead, the Devils could not really get much going.  Boston was a step ahead of them the entire game, and it showed.  A real second rate effort by New Jersey led to a 3-0 defeat at the hands of the Bruins.  John had the recap here.

The Last Islanders Game: Way back on Tuesday, the Islanders were finishing up their Western Canadian road trip.  The road trip started well, with wins over Winnipeg and Calgary.  The end of the trip, however, was not so great.  After getting beat 5-2 by Edmonton, they went to Vancouver for a game against the Canucks.  The Canucks were only able to muster 17 shots in the affair, as Jaroslav Halak did not get much work in.  Sadly for him and his team, however, he would let in three of those shots.  Vancouver took advantage of turnovers by the Islanders at key moments, turning them into goals.  The Islanders jumped out to an early 1-0 lead thanks to Matt Martin, but by the end of the 2nd period, they were down 3-1 thanks to goals by Ryan Stanton, Nick Bonino and Linden VeyMikhail Grabovski would cut that lead in half thanks to a pretty one timer with 5:27 to go in the third, but that would be all.  Despite attempts, the Islanders could not tie it up, and would lose 3-2.  The recap over at Lighthouse Hockey can be found here.

The Goal: Contain their speed.  Overall, the Islanders are a young, fast, and athletic group.  They can skate circles around you if you let them, and the Devils cannot allow that to happen.  Because they skate so well, they also dominate in possession.  Currently, the Islanders are the second best possession team in the league in terms of Fenwick, and they are only a tenth of a point behind the leading Tampa Bay Lightning.  If the Devils cannot figure out how to contain the Islanders' skaters and force them into a slower-paced game, New York will most likely dominate in possession and score more goals.  If the Devils do manage to curtail their speed, however, then good things can possibly happen.

Don't Hesitate: One way to contain the opposition is to actually keep possession of the puck, control the game and get shots on net.  While there are obviously several ways to do this, the one I want to highlight is not hesitating when making passes or shooting the puck.  While much of this is understandable due to a new system and younger players, there are too many times where the Devils hesitate before making a pass forward out of the defensive zone, or hesitate before making a crossing pass in the offensive zone.  Those hesitations and misgivings lead to botched passes, deflections, and turnovers.  That puts the puck back into the hands of the opponent while also preventing a possible attempt forward for New Jersey.  I hope that tonight, we see a Devils team that is confident in its passes and shots, and does not hesitate.

Most Likely Kinkaid: With Cory Schneider playing in Boston last night, the odds are strongly in the favor of Keith Kinkaid getting the nod tonight.  He has done real well against good teams this season, and I hope to see another strong performance out of him.  He has been a real bright spot this season for New Jersey, and it would be great if he could keep it up. If you would like to see his current numbers, I listed them in my post on Saturday.

A Really Good Opponent: The Islanders are certainly a good hockey club.  They average just under three goals per game, at 2.92.  This is thanks to an impressive 32.5 shots per game that they put up.  The only team that takes more shots than them is Chicago.  Their shooting percentage is actually only average at 7.93%, good for 13th in the league, but because they shoot so much, they are able to find twine more often than not.

On the reverse side, they are similarly excellent at shot prevention.  They are third best in the league at this, allowing only 27.2 shots per game, over 2 and a half shots less than New Jersey.  So while their team save percentage is nothing special, coming in at 90.91% at 5 on 5 action, they don't allow too many goals simply because they do not allow all that many shots.  Does this sound like the New Jersey Devils you used to know over the last couple seasons (with shot prevention and save percentages I mean...although without the success)?

Their Stars on Offense: As with most really good opponents, the Isles have multiple stars that tend to dominate many games.  Their points leader is none other than John Tavares, who produces nearly a point per game with 17 goals and 19 assists through 40 games played.  His line mate Kyle Okposo is right behind him with 35 points in 40 games played, while also posting an excellent 55.1% Fenwick.  The top line is rounded out by absolute speedster Michael Grabner, who has burned the slower Devils defense many times before.  He has only played in 6 games so far this season, however, and was only activated off of IR for the Vancouver game on Tuesday.  So hopefully for the Devils, he still has some rust.

Their Depth Forwards are Good Too: Below the first line, there are still some good playmakers.  Brock Nelson has had a real good season, producing 28 points and a Fenwick For of 53.8%.  Down on the third line, Ryan Strome has had a real surge in production this season, with 28 points so far this season.  Last season, he only had 18 points in a similar number of games played.  He is someone to watch out for as well.  Also, do not ignore their fourth line, which is not as bad as one would hope when playing them.  The current trio of Casey Cizikas, Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck all has pristine possession statistics (FF% of 54.5, 55.5, and 56.7 respectively).  So while they may not score as often as the skill players, they certainly know how to drive possession forward and keep the opposition on their heels.

A Good Defense, but Not As Good As Their Offense: Their defense has been solid this season, but it has not been as bright as their offense.  As mentioned above, they are excellent at shot prevention.  What they are not as great in, however, is preventing goals.  The Islanders allow 2.78 goals per game, which is good for 21st in the league.  While that cannot all be placed on the defense, and the goaltending has to take some blame, nonetheless it needs to be noted.

Their top pairing is Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk, who each have 18 points (although Boychuk has played 10 less games).  They are both possession giants, with Fenwick percentages hovering around 60%.  They regularly play the toughs and come out on top.  They will be really difficult to beat.  Behind them, the Devils also need to worry about Travis Hamonic, who has been injury plagued this season, but when healthy is someone to watch out for.  Thankfully, however, the Devils will not need to worry about Lubomir Visnovsky, who was recently placed on IR with an upper body injury.

An Area of Weakness...the PK: The one area where the Isles have really struggled is on the penalty kill.  Right now, the team ranks 26th in the league with a kill conversion rate of 76.5%.  That is two percentage points worse than New Jersey.  The Islanders do not take too many penalties, ranking 7th in the league with only 133 minor penalties taken, so they make up for a poor kill by not taking penalties.  Nonetheless, the Devils have to hope they can get a few power plays, and convert on them.

Their Goaltending Situation: The main man in net for New York is Jaroslav Halak, who will most likely start tonight since the team has been off since Tuesday.  Halak has started 27 games this season, posting a .914 save percentage and a 2.30 GAA.  Those are respectable numbers, but nothing special.  However, his 5 on 5 save percentage is at .924, meaning that he is much better at even strength.  He is not nearly as good on the penalty kill, meaning again that the Devils need to take advantage if they can get a power play or two.

If he happens to not go, their backup is Chad Johnson.  He has started 9 games this season, but has a miserable save percentage of .867.  There is a chance he could play, being as tonight is the first of a back-to-back for the Islanders, but I would still venture to guess that Halak is between the pipes, as it could be smarter for the Isles to just ride Halak both nights if he is able.

Your Take: Regardless, it will be interesting tonight to see the Islanders come to the Rock this season.  Playoff bound, they will be a tough matchup for our New Jersey Devils.  What do you think though?  What are your thoughts on tonight's game, and what do the Devils need to do to keep up with New York?  Please leave your comments in the section below, and thanks for reading.