Islanders Gameday: An afternoon with the Devil...and DiPietro

This is one of those games where the opponent is superior in every phase of the game. It's also one where they're a quite familiar divisional opponent, and anything can happen. The Devils outscored the Islanders 8-2 in their two previous, victorious meetings this season. Martin Biron was in goal for those; the Devils draw Dwayne Roloson today. [Update: Wrong assumption! Strang tweets Rick DiPietro gets his second start in a row. Huh.]

Colnj-cmouth_medium                 Nyi-lown_medium
New Jersey Devils (32-13-1, 2nd/E) at New York Islanders (21-19-8, 8th/E)
2 p.m. EST | Nassau [gloriously unsponsored] V.M. Coliseum | MSG+/+2, radio
Feverishly shopping cryogenic freezer vendors for Lou: In Lou We Trust
Stuck at work? The game stream is on Yahoo.

 

Obviously, the big news is Patrik Elias' absence after the scary (and clean) hit he took in Colorado. The nee Scouts f.k.a. Rockies are also still without Paul Martin, David Clarkson, Dainius Zubrus, but... {checks standings} yeah, apparently that hasn't troubled them too much.

But I'm going to focus on the positive -- the optimist, if you will. The Islanders are as healthy as they've been all season, which is to say healthier than they've been since the summer of 2008. The Devils have won just two of the last seven at the Coliseum, and surely we all remember the final two last year: Those 4-0 and 7-3 routs were odd little bright spots at the end of a miserable season, giving us teasing glimpses of a dreamy future.

It wasn't just the results, but the how: Four goals from Sean Bergenheim (including a hat trick), two from Kyle Okposo, one each from Jeff Tambellini and Blake Comeau, and a few assists from Frans Nielsen. Our little children, it seemed, were growing up.

Now you add an outstanding goalie in Roloson, an emerging Josh Bailey, and John Tavares -- the latter two making a nice first-round line with Okposo at the moment -- and you start to see how pieces of the puzzle are being established. Top it off with the Isles being 8-2-1 in their last 11 and yeah, I've got hope for this afternoon.

About those first-rounders on line one: Stat man Eric at Forever1940 notes Saturday night was the first time the Islanders had five of their first-rounders in the same game since at least 1995-96. In a completely unrelated, why-do-you-ask? bit of pure historical coincidence, Mike Milbury became GM of the Islanders on Dec. 13, 1995.

Gameplan: Y'know, skate hard 'n stuff

Well, the Islanders' 15.9% powerplay still needs work just establishing possession in the zone (though it seemed to improve as the Buffalo game went on). The PK needs to keep up its recent rate, which has been aided by staying out of the box. And something the Isles did against Detroit and Buffalo must continue: The forwards coming all the way back, without fail, providing backchecking pressure but also immediate safety valves for the defense. Perhaps you've noticed, the blueline isn't the best puck-moving unit, so it makes such an immense difference when the wing and the center are there to help get defensemen's chips out of the zone.

Oh, and there's one other difference these last few games: Their strongest lineup. I'm reluctant to mention this because it gets mentioned often enough as it is -- and here's a FanPost linking to some of the figures -- but it's worth noting the last two fantastic efforts came without Nate Thompson, Brendan Witt and Tim Jackman. Those guys bring a physical element -- and willingness to drop the gloves when needed -- but Witt and Thompson (along with Richard Park) are on the ice for the most goals against per minute of any guys on the roster.

I've no doubt those guys are popular among teammates and trusted by the coach; but they also represent the bottom options on the 23-man roster as of now. If and when we get to the mythical point where everyone is healthy, it will be interesting what Scott Gordon and Garth Snow do -- and more interesting what discernible on-ice effects those decisions have.

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That'll do it for the moment. Although this is a matinee, a separate game thread will go up for in-game comments and such shortly before the game. Any roster surprises probably won't be known until then.

Prediction: This beat goes on. Zach Parise scores, but the Islanders score more.

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