Can the Islanders spark enough offense to topple the Metropolitan favorites?
The New York Islanders are looking to snap somewhat of a cold spell this Friday as they take on the current #1 New Jersey Devils. The division rivals bested the Isles early in the season as they began to find their game, leading to a massive win streak. That may have also been the worst display of hockey from the boys all season, which isn’t so bad considering how far we’ve come since then!
The Islanders are 1-2 in the last 3 games but have outshot their opponents in each matchup. The last time we played the Devils, they managed to hold us to a mere 17 shots on goal. NJ has a solid defense that is known for smothering chances to shoot the puck, currently possessing the best SA/GP metric with 26.4. They also have the 5th best penalty kill at the moment, which is not ideal considering the Isles mediocre power play.
The Devils are a fast team. Their youth has finally developed into a speedy hockey team that can shut other teams down. The first matchup on Oct. 20th @ UBS Arena was stressful to watch as an Islander fan. We were absolutely overwhelmed, and at that point in the season we may have been wondering if we were going to have another year of struggling for a playoff spot. Fortunately, the month and a half since then has proven that this Islander team can compete with the best. This matchup will be a good test of whether or not our updated style of play can keep up with dominant forces like New Jersey, who are 21-4-1 after 26 games.
The biggest concern is becoming our growing list of injuries. Kyle Palmieri has been out for 7 games with an upper body injury and did not practice on Thursday (12/8). He is gearing up for a possible return soon, however, despite remaining on IR. Cal Clutterbuck and Adam Pelech are both day-to-day with upper body injuries, as well. Clutter practiced with the boys on Thursday and may even return tonight, having missed the past three games. Pelech went down in Tuesday’s game against St. Louis, suffering what is assumed to be a concussion. His awkward fall into the boards left us questioning a possible leg problem, but that doesn’t appear to be the major concern. Seeing our top defenseman stumbling on the ice like a baby deer was not pleasant, and we hope for a speedy recovery for Pelech. Robin Salo is expected to take his place for the time being, who I am a big fan of, personally. He can use some maintenance on his defensive play, but his contributions to the offense are undeniable, and it is good to give him ice time when possible at the NHL level.
I have faith that the Islanders will be able to handle them much more effectively this time around. They have grown a lot in the first two months of the season under Lane Lambert’s direction. We have shown that we can score goals when we need them, and with this important stretch of games coming up we are praying for Dobson, Nelson, and the rest of the guys to keep putting pucks on net, as the Metropolitan Division grows ever tighter. The Islanders currently sit in the 1st wildcard spot with 32 points, and will play the Carolina Hurricanes tomorrow 12/10.
Keys to the Game: Come out flying, set the tone with physicality, and stifle their speed in the neutral zone.