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Islanders Gameday: Back-to-back in SoCal

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New York Islanders (29-32-10, t-11th/E) at Los Angeles Kings (40-24-5, 6th/W)
10:30 EDT | [we make paper clips fun] Center | MSG+,
Playoffs?! Playoffs!?!: Jewels from the Crown | Battle of California

If you didn't see WebBard retrieve it in comments, the Islanders season-long Corsi measure when tied or leading in third periods is, well, bad. In truth, ranking in the bottom five in this category is hardly surprising when the Islanders rank in the bottom six in just about every measure (5-on-5, PP, PK, attendance on the week of full moons...).

Corsi is a plus/minus measure of shots attempted at either net, with the theory being that over time, bad bounces and bad goalies happen ("Sure I was minus-2, but I can't close our goalie's five-hole for him!"), so this gives you another picture of who might control the run of play, score be damned. But even with the good ol' trusty measure of goals, the Isles record in the third -- whether leading, trailing, tied, or thinking about California beach drum circles -- is not good. As stat man Eric pointed out, the Islanders have been outscored 78-40 in the third this year (74-36 if you exclude empty nets).

I didn't see the post-game, but by all accounts it's pretty lame for Scott Gordon to walk out of the one-on-one after taking another question about third periods. Even if there is a brilliant explanation (and honestly, I'd take youth development as one factor), perception is reality when your coach is talking to fans. As an ambassador, speaking via the generally softball-tossing rights holder's broadcast, it's generally wise to explain your stance rather than walk away, baby walk away.

Like it or not, the third period goblin is going to be hanging over this team's head, via the media and our general fan zeitgeist, until the Isles become a better team who flops in the third less often. (And to be fair -- last night aside -- I do think they're improving.) For a coach, the more thoroughly you explain your thinking, the less likely fans are to riot for your demise a few seasons down the line when some very important game is lost through the very normal hockey occurrence of a third-period lead lost, and everyone freaks out and recalls 2008. Or 2009. Or 2010.

Aside from a post-Olympic 3-4-1 stumble (the Isles are 4-3-2 in that time), from a season-long perspective the maturing Kings are more or less a promising date with a few flaws that can be forgiven. Five-on-five their 1.03 GF/GA ratio is 13th overall. Their 20.6% PP is sixth. Jonathan Quick is decent but not spectacular (his .909 save pct. over the season matches Dwayne Roloson's), but his nicely evolving team has earned him (and my fantasy team) a lot of wins, which someone will no doubt cite as reason to give him an award.

It's an open question how they'll do (and whom they'll draw) once the postseason hits, but the good news for the Kings is they are now good enough to finally make another postseason appearance, which their play through most of the season has all but assured them.

In short: The challenge tonight is not for the Islanders shooters to beat Quick, it's for the Islanders skaters to get in position to get quality chances, from which beating Quick is not that big of a deal. Should they do that and bring a lead into the third, the challenge will be to handle it like they did in Vancouver (still outshot, but still forcing play and rarely back on their heels) rather than like they did in Anaheim (badly outshot, generally messy, and rather lucky to keep the lead until 19:28 of the period).

These teams' previous meeting in October looked close (2-1 loss), but the Kings pretty much controlled everything. The Isles could lose this one 4-2 and still show a season of progress over that snoozer.

With Martin Biron playing last night, figure Roloson to return. (And no, I didn't see starting Biron against the weaker Californian team last night as an issue at all. Back-to-backs are made for using both goalies, period. But particularly so if your backup happens to be pretty decent and your starter happens to be 40 and is the main guy you'll rely on next year.) Haven't heard of nor expect any other lineup changes -- in other words, I don't see a "Philly Flu" reason to insert Trevor Gillies back in for the Kings, but then I don't walk out on interviews, either.


Mighty Matty Mo

This is the return of Matt Moulson to the team for whom he burned his youthful years. Hopefully he scores his 27th just to give them something to think about. But honestly, acting like the Kings totally blew it is a little over the top considering their top-six forwards and the prospects they have in the system. Hopefully in a few years the Islanders will be able to afford cutting away a guy who can rack up nearly 30 goals on a bottom-five team.

Prediction: Ryan Smyth holds himself together for this one. Kyle Okposo continues his late charge to be the Isles' third 20-goal scorer.

It maybe doesn't make sense to toss up a separate game thread for a very late game on a Saturday night. But that's just how we do it around here and I'm too lazy to alter tradition. So the in-game thread will be up well after normal dinnertime for the populations who have not fled to the West to become food service practitioners big stars.