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Game Preview #81: New Jersey Devils vs. New York Islanders

It’s Patrik Elias’ final lap. It’s the last home game of the 2016-17 season. It’s the New Jersey Devils taking on the New York Islanders, who need to win this game to keep playoff hopes alive. It’s a post previewing this game.

Philadelphia Flyers v New Jersey Devils
Goodbye, Patrik Elias. Goodbye, Rock.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

This is the final weekend of the 2016-17 Season. This isn’t just the last home game of the season, it’s the last appearance of Patrik Elias in a Devils uniform at the Rock. He will be skating the in the warmup as a final goodbye.

The Time: 6:00 PM ET

The Broadcast: TV – MSG & MSG+; Digital Audio – The One Jersey Network

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (28-38-14) vs. the New York Islanders (39-29-12, SBN Blog: Lighthouse Hockey)

The Pregame Warmup: It’ll feature Patrik Elias’ last lap. So arrive before 5:30 if you can.

The Last Devils Game: The Devils hosted Pittsburgh in a game filled with goals, goals, and more goals. Unfortunately, most of those goals were scored by the visiting Penguins. It was close within the first two periods; the Pens pulled away in the third period. What wasn’t close was some of the defensive coverage, particularly by the Devils skaters as the Penguins scored some lovely goals at their expense. It would be an essay in of itself to run through them all and it doesn’t have that much value other than to say the result. It was a 4-7 loss. Devin recapped the game here.

The Last Islanders Game: The Isles need wins to keep faint playoff hopes alive. On Thursday, they took on Carolina, who were mathematically eliminated days earlier. Needing a win, the Isles took it right to the Canes. Brock Nelson scored less than ninety seconds into the game to put the Isles up early. Minutes later, Scott Mayfield scored to put the Isles up 2-0. The Canes had little response in the rest of the first period. Andrew Ladd converted a power play within the first minute of the second period to put the Isles up further at 3-0. The Canes began to attack much more often to get in the period, but Jaroslav Halak stopped all of fifteen shots in that period. And he remained perfect in the third period. The Isles won big, 3-0, over Carolina to keep hope alive for another day. Steven E. Smith has this recap of the win at Lighthouse Hockey.

The Last Devils-Islanders Game: Last Friday, the Devils and Islanders closed out March with a game at the Barclay’s Center. If you like penalties called against the Devils, then this was the game for you. They were assessed eleven of them! Only the first one cost them: Anders Lee was alone in front of Keith Kinkaid to convert one in the first period. All of the others were killed by the Devils. Unfortunately, in the second period, Anthony Beauvillier rocketed a shot off a rush to make it 2-0 for the game’s only even strength goal. Adam Henrique converted a power play - the Islanders conceded three of those - in the third period to make it close. But the Devils were unable to tie it up so they lost 1-2 in a night filled with whistles. My recap of the loss is here. For the other side, here’s Dominik’s recap at Lighthouse Hockey, which focuses on a bigger result from the win: that John Tavares was hurt and left the game early.

The Goal: Have some fun. It’s a lost season. It’s the last home game. Patrik Elias is saying goodbye. Just have a good time. If nothing else, make it somewhat entertaining for the Devils fans who will be there, and somewhat nerve-wracking for the Islanders fans who will also be there.

The Opposition’s Incentive: The Islanders need to win this game. Before Friday’s games, the Islanders are three points behind Toronto for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They need help to jump the Leafs, but that help will be unnecessary if the Islanders do not take care of their own business. They cannot afford to drop any games. They need to win this game tonight. Expect any Islanders fans to be at the Rock to be rather engaged in how their team plays.

Isles Forwards Without Tavares: John Tavares is the Islanders’ the best player. He’s their leading scorer and shooter. He’s out with a hamstring injury. So how will the Isles look without him tonight?

A look at the lines from the Isles’ most recent game from Left Wing Lock provides an idea of what to expect. Thomas Hickey has been lining up at left wing, as also backed up in the game preview at Lighthouse Hockey for the recent Carolina-Isles game. Unless Nikolay Kulemin is ready to go, then the Isles will likely use a defender up front again. Per Left Wing Lock, Hickey or some other D will be with Josh Bailey and Brock Nelson. Bailey is second on the Isles in points with 54; he has thirteen goals out of 172 shots on net. Nelson is a little more prolific at lighting the lamp, he has nineteen goals out of 170 shots. Provided Hickey can keep those two going, it’s a line that will work in a pinch. While Jason Chimera is old yet still spritely and Alan Quine is a guy, Andrew Ladd is a threat. Despite his awful start to the season, he now has 22 goals out of 139 shots on net which is anything but awful for a scoring winger. His shot is strong and he can do some real damage from the wing.

In my opinion, the most dangerous line for New Jersey - especially after how Pittsburgh rushed them down on counter-attacks - is the Anders Lee line. Lee has had a great season; he’s the Islanders’ leading goal scorer with 31 and he has contributed in several situations, such as the power play. He will continue to produce and that is a problem for any Islanders opponent. His wingers are young, quick, and talented. Anthony Beauvillier has nine goals, 23 points, and 99 shots on net this season. For a 19-year old who was moved around in the lineup, that’s not shabby at all. In the last Devils-Isles game, he sniped a shot off a pass - it’s an example of what he could do with space. Josh Ho-Sang has been notable in his nineteen games with the Isles. He’s put up four goals, six assists, and twenty shots in that span. He’s very confident on the puck; he’ll take defenders on with the puck and hold onto the puck to try to make plays for open teammates. Not too dissimilar to what Hall does. Ho-Sang could stand to shoot the puck more, especially off the rush - nearly every time against the Devils, he would make a pass. He can make those passes work; he created Beauvillier’s goal last week. With this trio, the Devils will have to be especially careful about backchecking, the pace of the game when they’re out there, and not turning the puck over with teammates too deep.

Splitting Goalies: Both the Devils and Islanders play back-to-back sets this weekend. It stands to reason that both will split the games between their starters - Cory Schneider and Thomas Griess - and backups - Keith Kinkaid and Jaroslav Halak. For the Devils, it really doesn’t matter who starts when. Kinkaid was fantastic against the Flyers while the Pens lit up Schneider. After about 9 PM on Sunday, neither will matter. For the Isles, both have to win. Fortunately (or not?), Greiss and Halak have had similar seasons from a save-percentage perspective. Greiss has the advantage at even strength by 0.4%, while Halak is coming off a shutout and has been hotter on the PK. With Ottawa at Barclay’s on Sunday in another potential must-win, I would guess on Halak starting this one to keep the #1 guy fresh. But, again, whoever is in net for the Isles has to play well. A bad night tonight may mean that Sunday may not matter for them either.

Demotion: Andrew Gross Tweeted yesterday that the Devils sent Luke Gazdic and Steve Santini down to Albany. I’m more than fine with Gazdic going down. I thought it was silly to call him up to begin with and his pugilistic services did not end up being used anyway. I’m more irked by Santini going down. I keep telling myself that this is probably more for Albany’s benefit as they are in a playoff race. Still, I’m not pleased that he’s removed from a group that is now Greene, Lovejoy, Severson, Moore, Merrill, Kapla, and Prout. I’d rather have seen him play more minutes than usual in these last two games than to get another look at Prout or Merrill playing on the right side of the ice. Alas.

It will be interesting to see whether Kapla does play in both games in this weekend. He had a real rough night against Pittsburgh. At the same time, Hynes and his staff seem intent on having a close look at him and so these two games are good opportunities as any.

Please: The lines of Michael Cammalleri, Pavel Zacha, and Taylor Hall and Adam Henrique, Travis Zajac, and Kyle Palmieri were more successful on Thursday than they were on Tuesday. There were more shots and, of course, more goals between those players. I would still like to see Hall-Zajac-Palmieri back together just to have one power line in 5-on-5 play. Besides, other than seeing how Zacha performs on a “top” line, there’s not really much to learn as Hynes has used the other five forwards in various combinations over the last two seasons. So, please, give me 9-19-21 again before the end of the season.

The Sherman Abrams Section?: Sherman Abrams normally doesn’t do previews. But he feels that comments will be among his proponents so let’s address them anyway. Here’s what he wants me to tell you ahead of this weekend:

As of Friday night, the Devils are in 27th place with 28 wins, 25 ROW, 70 points, and two games left. Since they lost to Pittsburgh in regulation, that is the highest they will finish in this season. Arizona beat Vancouver 4-3 in regulation (Mr. Abrams sighs), so Arizona is in 28th place with 30 wins, 24 ROW, 70 points, and one game left. That games played difference is the only reason why the Devils are above Arizona at the moment. Vancouver is in 29th with 30 wins, 26 ROW, 69 points, and two games left. Points are the key factor and now we have to consider tiebreakers. The first tiebreaker is games played, followed by ROW, head-to-head in an even number of games (which the Devils have with Arizona and Vancouver), and then goal differential.

Ideally, the Devils should lose both games, Arizona wins their last game against Minnesota tonight, and Vancouver picks up two points in their last two games (a home-and-home with Edmonton this weekend). Then the Devils will be in 29th for sure.

A tie in points with Vancouver (Devils lose both games, Canucks just get one out of four points) would likely mean New Jersey falls below them due to ROW.

A tie in points with Arizona (as they are now, as in both teams just lose) and Arizona falls below New Jersey due to ROW.

The worst case scenario from Mr. Abrams’ perspective is that the Devils win their last two games. Then they’ll be set in 27th with 74 points. But even one win would likely keep the Devils above Arizona and even ahead of Vancouver, as the Canucks are further back in points. Spoiling the Islanders’ playoff faint dreams does not matter to the standings or Mr. Abrams.

One Last Game-Related Thought: The Islanders’ power play went 1-for-10 on March 31 against the Devils. Granted, two of those advantages were close to the end of regulation. Still, it brings to mind something the Isles’ coaching staff has to be concerned with: their power play success rate. It’s at 14.8% (34 for 230), which is in the bottom five of the whole NHL. The Devils would do well to be more disciplined (I’m looking at you, Miles Wood, Ben Thomson, and Joseph Blandisi) tonight even if Tim Peel isn’t involved in this game. At the same time, if the Isles really want the postseason, then they need goals where they can get it, and so they’ll really want to get power play goals when they have advantages.

Alternatively, they can just push for counter attacks during New Jersey’s power plays. With a league-leading twelve shorthanded goals allowed, it’s a viable play.

One Last Thought: Patrik Elias will forever be known as a Devils legend. The love he gets at the Rock tonight is only a portion of the love he has received from Devils fans all over the world. Thank you, Patty. Enjoy your last lap.

Your Take: It’s the final home game of the season. For the last time until preseason in September, I’ll be in Section 1, Row 16, Seat 5. What do you want to see from the Devils tonight? What do you expect?