Preview: Game #44 Islanders @ Leafs – An important game in April

After the Toronto Maple Leafs, the longest playoff drought in the Eastern Conference belongs to the New York Islanders, who of course made the dance in that Game 82 shootout against New Jersey to knock the Leafs out of contention. They proceeded to get killed by the Buffalo Sabres.

The Islanders are a team that are forgotten about sometimes. They’ve had long stretches of futility and very little meaningful success out of their four consecutive Stanley Cups in the early 1980s. Since passing the baton to the Edmonton Oilers in the 1984 Cup final, they’ve played 25 complete seasons. They’ve made the playoffs in 11 of them and have won just four playoff series.

But they hold down the seven seed coming into Thursday’s competition. They play the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Islanders are a fascinating case study this season. In the offseason, rival New York Rangers again, made their high-profile player moves, while the Islanders traded for Lubomir Visnovsky and signed Brad Boyes. Neither are particularly high-profile and Visnovsky filed a grievance, not wanting to report to the Island. He eventually did and his third on the time in average time on ice.

Here is how the Islanders acquired their top six scorers:

  How acquired
John Tavares No. 1 overall pick
Matt Moulson UFA – $575k one year
Brad Boyes UFA – $1M one year
Mark Streit UFA – $4.1M five years
Frans Nielsen Third-round pick
Michael Grabner Waivers

Other than John Tavares and Mark Streit, there wasn’t a whole lot of buzz when any of these players went to the Island. Perhaps Michael Grabner, but only because he was an ex-first round pick. There’s a tinge of truth that the success of certain players is thanks to the situations they find themselves in. The talent between Matt Moulson and Joffrey Lupul is fairly indistinguishable to the eye. I don’t think a lot of fans appreciate just how talented top-tier AHL players are, or some depth players. Just giving a guy offensive zone minutes like the Islanders did with Moulson can turn a player into a year-to-year 30-goal player.

Broadcast Info:

TV: Leafs TV

Puck Drop: 7:00 PM EDT

By the Numbers:

  NY Islanders Toronto
Corsi Tied % 51.6% (11th) 44.4% (29th)
5v5 GF/GA Ratio 0.93 (21st) 1.09 (10th)
Team Shooting % 7.78% 10.47%
Team Save % 0.909 0.926
Team PDO 0.987 1.031

Special Teams:

  NY Islanders Toronto
PP Success 21.6% (6th) 18.1% (15th)
5v4 GF/60 7.87 (4th) 6.28 (13th)
5v4 SF/60 53.9 (4th) 44.5 (22nd)
PK Success 81.4% (16th) 87.0% (3rd)
4v5 GA/60 6.65 (19th) 4.55 (3rd)
4v5 SA/60 53.2 (26th) 40.4 (5th)

Starting Goalies:

  EV SV% Quality Start Rate Starts Quality Starts
Evgeny Nabokov 0.916 56.76% 37 21
James Reimer 0.927 53.85% 26 14

Stats via Hockey Analysis and


First thing you’ll note is that this is a Leafs TV broadcast, so if you live outside the Toronto area and don’t have Gamecentre Live… you won’t get to watch it in high-definition. MSG broadcasts aren’t carried in HD on Centre Ice either.

Second thing you’ll note is that the Islanders are the 21st best team in goals for and against at even strength, but they’re somehow three points clear of 9th place Winnipeg. How is that happening? Being 9-2 in regulation one-goal games helps. The team wins a disproportionate amount of games by one goal. Clutch? Perhaps, but winning a lot of one-goal games doesn’t bode well for the future. Poor lugs, I hate to tell them…

That said the Isles are owed some form of luck. They’ve had a lousy PDO all season despite having some possession totals hovering around 50%. Pretty good defensive corps as well: Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald handle the toughs in the defensive zone so the more talented Lubomir Visnovski, Thomas Hickey and Mark Streit can out-chance the opposition starting at the other end of the ice.

Jack Capuano’s deployment has changed recently. Writing a preview for a game back in February between these two teams I noted that Capuano never seemed to be able to get John Tavares away from tough competition. That’s changed recently and the usage chart they have now is fairly impressive. The first line of Tavares, Moulson and Boyes play Corsi Rel QoC competition of below zero despite starting lots of shifts in the offensive zone.

When you zone match rather than match by players, what happens is your top offensive players tend to play against stronger guys. Not so much the case on the Island, so Capuano’s been doing a good job keeping his top players away from the opposition’s toughs. He’s fine seeing Frans Nielsen and Josh Bailey play against those other guys.

Here are the Islanders prospective lines via Left Wing Lock:

Matt Moulson – John Tavares – Brad Boyes
Josh Bailey – Frans Nielsen – Kyle Okposo
Colin McDonald – Keith Aucoin – Michael Grabner
Matt Martin – Casey Cizikas – Jesse Joensuu

Mark Streit – Radek Martinek
Travis Hamonic – Andrew MacDonald
Lubomir Visnovsky – Thomas Hickey

Evgeny Nabokov
Kevin Poulin
(Tim Thomas)

I felt like adding Tim Thomas there because there’s potential for an Islanders-Bruins first round match up, and if Nabokov can’t bring up that even strength save percentage, it’s time to reach out to the Islanders’ big-name midseason acquisition.

But not really.

Like Carlyle, Capuano has a fourth line that he doesn’t really use. I think I remember Jesse Joensuu at a World Juniors one season, and I certainly remember Casey Cizikas as a Mississauga Major, but those three won’t see too much ice time. Matt Martin’s a heavy hitter who sometimes shows up alongside Keith Aucoin.

Aucoin’s a good story. He’s just so “New York Islander”. A player who jumped to three organizations unable to find a regular NHL spot now has five goals and 11 points being an everyday player on the third line with the Isles. He even has a plus-Corsi rate to boot!

For the Leafs, Paul Hendrick said that Matt Frattin and Clarke MacArthur are back in and the odd-man out is… Frazer McLaren???

James van Riemsdyk – Tyler Bozak – Phil Kessel
Joffrey Lupul – Nazem Kadri – Nik Kulemin
Clarke MacArthur – Mikhail Grabovski – Matt Frattin
Colton Orr – Jay McClement – Leo Komarov

Jake Gardiner – Dion Phaneuf
John-Michael Liles – Ryan O’Byrne
Mark Fraser – Cody Franson

James Reimer
Ben Scrivens

I guess that’s how it will work. Hendrick says two guys are going in and one is going out… so I’d assume the odd-man out is Ryan Hamilton. You have to hope there’s nothing seriously wrong with Carl Gunnarsson, who presumably will sit tonight.

Phaneuf and Gardiner have been lights-out lately. While both other pairings are getting out-shot and out-chanced, Dion and Jake are neutralizing first line opposition. Have to hope another unit steps up tonight.

Again, it’s a “big game”. Today’s MSM reading is about Nazem Kadri’s scoring drought. Today’s blog reading is about why you ought to root for a Habs-Leafs playoff series (from Down Goes Brown), and Anthony Petrelli’s MLHS “The Notebook” series which is pretty good reading each week.

  • I find it telling that Taveres is good enough to make Moulson a 30 goal first liner but kessel is just not enough to make Bozak a comparable first liner. There is a big difference in talent between the two. And wow Snow signing Taveres for 5M for what seem like forever.

    I hope Nonis is savvy enough and Kessel wants to win with the leafs like Taveres wants to win with the NYI to take a hometown discount.

    • Okay, let’s clear this myth. Moulson was a 14% shooter in the AHL. In the NHL….he’s a 14% shooter. Tavares is helping Moulson, but Moulson is scoring 30 a year because of MOULSON’s talents, not just JT.