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Game 24 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. New York Islanders - 11/28/2009

The Time: 1 PM EST

The Broadcasting Info: MSG on the TV; 660 AM WFAN on the radio

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (16-6-1) vs. the New York Islanders (10-9-7)

The Last Devils Game: The Devils held steady and Martin Brodeur was massive as the Boston Bruins eventually dominated possession.  The Devils eventually held on and was successful in the shootout.  I recapped the game here.

The Last Islanders Game:  The Islanders played all 60 minutes against Pittsburgh and came away with the win. More impressively was that they did it by making a two goal comeback and, get this, not sitting back with the lead.  Dominik at Lighthouse Hockey was impressed with the performance.

The Last Devils-Islanders Game: The Devils were hot and getting the job done with one-goal margins of victory.  That night at the Rock, long shots by Cory Murphy and Brian Rolston eventually prevailed and Yann Danis was solid in a 2-1 victory.  The game was also Patrik Elias' first game this season.  I recapped the game earlier this month.

The Goal: Possession.  The Devils just played a game where the opposition dominated in possession and it showed. Sure, the Devils outshot the Boston Bruins, but the B's had better scoring chances and owned the third period as a result.   The Devils were fortunate to escape Boston with one point, much less two thanks to Martin Brodeur being a legendary goaltender.   The Islanders will be feeling confident at the Rock this afternoon. They came from behind against Pittsburgh by playing a full game.  Sure, they could be tired; but with the top two lines and the top four defensemen on New Jersey all playing heavy minutes against Boston, I'm more concerned with fatigue hurting New Jersey.   Chasing the Islanders for the puck all game long would be asking for trouble.  Maintaining possession would allow the Devils to control the tempo that best benefits them and force the Islanders to expend more energy.   Therefore, I think possession is the key.

Against the Bruins, David Clarkson blocked a Zdeno Chara with his right ankle and had to leave the game.  Jacques Lemaire has already said the injury doesn't look good and Gulitti's speculating that it could be a broken ankle.  Even if it's just a bruise and is very minor, I highly doubt Clarkson will play today.   

I would keep checking with Gulitti and Chere prior to today's game to see if there are any emergency call ups from Lowell.  If so, I would suspect it would be current Lowell leading scorer Vladimir Zharkov.  He has 6 goals and 14 assists in 22 games with Lowell and plays right wing like Clarkson.   If not, then expect Tyler Eckford to play right wing again. 

I'm honestly concerned with the Devils' fatigue, as mentioned prior to the jump.  Here's a list of players who played over 20 minutes against Boston on Friday.

Andy Greene (27:59), Mike Mottau (26:52), Zach Parise (24:15), Colin White (24:00), Jamie Langenbrunner (23:47), Brian Rolston (22:45), Bryce Salvador (22:28),  Patrik Elias (21:56), Travis Zajac (21:56)

I know the game was 65 minutes long, but that's still significant time played and by the third period tomorrow, I would be concerned about their fatigue.  Should the Islanders utilize their speed, this will be a problem.  Nonetheless, here is my guess as of Friday evening for Saturday's lineup.  Of course, I suspect I'll be wrong on the goaltender - per Gulitti on Friday evening, no decision has been made yet - and on who will step in for Clarkson for at least the Islanders' game.

Zach Parise - Travis Zajac - Niclas Bergfors
Brian Rolston - Patrik Elias - Jamie Langenbrunner
  Dean McAmmond - Tim Sestito - Matt Halischuk
 Andrew Peters - Rod Pelley - Tyler Eckford

Andy Greene - Bryce Salvador
Colin White - Mike Mottau
  Mark Fraser - Matthew Corrente

Yann Danis
Martin Brodeur

I think the Devils will wait to get further confirmation on the extent Clarkson's injury before calling anyone up from Lowell. Since the game is at 1 PM, they'll likely get the bad news tomorrow morning and perhaps with too little time for anyone from Lowell to make it back to New Jersey.  As for goaltender, I'm guessing Danis will get the start given that Brodeur was very busy against Boston and Lemaire has given the backup a chance in a back-to-back set.  Besides, Danis has beaten the Islanders at the Rock earlier this month, he'll know what to expect from the Islanders.  

Still, based on my guess at the lineup, expect another second straight day of heavy workload for the top two forward lines and the top four defensemen.

Speaking of the Islanders, I was fortunate to ask Dominik of Lighthouse Hockey some questions about how the Islanders have been playing.  The team may be at the bottom of the Atlantic, but they've been grinding out points and are now outright winning games.  They are 5-3-2 in their last 10 games and are definitely not pushovers.

Question #1. John Tavares has certainly exceeded my expectations.  I thought he'd struggle but he's leading rookies in scoring as well as the Islander offense.  How impressed have you been with Tavares so far?

Dominik: Very impressed. He's logging first-line center minutes while putting up points and not being a defensive liability. Each game he's showing that he continues to learn what can and can't work at the NHL level. Plus, of course his level head and commitment to improving as a hockey player is already pretty widely known. He has been absolutely as billed.

2009 - John Tavares 25 9 11 20 -1 4 4 0 0 0 69 13.0

Question #2. On the flipside of impressive, before Wednesday's and Friday's games, the Islanders have a 5-4-7 record in one goal games. Is this coincidence? If not, what do you think the Islanders have to do to avoid being on the wrong side of a close game?

Dominik: Honestly, four of those seven are shootouts, so I consider those one-goal games the same way I consider fantasy hockey to be watching NHL hockey. Ultimately, I read their high number of one-goal games and OT games as a reflection of them being competitive in almost every game this season. They have a problem protecting third-period leads, but with their shallow depth, I'm impressed simply by them having the lead in so many games to begin with. This will get better as they continue to accumulate better players.

Question #3. Despite allowing 33.3 shots against per game on average, the Islanders lead the league in recorded total blocked shots (458) and takeaways (283). Do the official scorers just love the Islanders, or are the defensemen and backcheckers encouraged to get in front or shots and take pucks back instead of preventing shots?

Dominik: Again, their lack of depth means they have to compensate with hard work, including with blocked shots, relentless backchecking, and by not taking periods off. They have to keep pressing for pretty much the whole game, because they don't have the margin of error that deeper teams have. (Except, of course, the 61-shot debacle they miraculously won over the Leafs in OT.)

Question #4. Mark Streit is the Islanders' #1 defenseman.  The stats back this up, leading the blueline in points and in average time on ice (25:33).  What I want to know is who is the second best defenseman on the Islanders?

Dominik:  It changes by the day, but right now and for the last two weeks Jack Hillen is by far their #2. He can rush the puck, he can get back quickly after pinching in, and though he's undersized he's showing he can handle his own defensively. As of Friday, he also leads the team with a plus-8.

Question #5. Lastly, do you have a prediction for this afternoon game?

Dominik: A low-scoring Lemaire game? The Islanders have had some trouble finishing lately, and I don't expect that will change against the Devils. Lemaire strikes me as the perfect coach to frustrate Gordon's aggressive forecheck -- at least until Gordon has more, better players with which to deploy it. With both teams coming off an afternoon game yesterday, who knows who will wear down first? The Islanders take more penalties on the road (and draw more, too), so at minimum I predict a lot of powerplays.

Big thanks to Dominik of Lighthouse Hockey for his answers.  And there you have it. Further reason to believe that the Islanders are not an easy two points. Further reason to believe that John Tavares is some kind of special player.  And as a bonus, Dominik offers an opportunity for the Devils - power plays. The Devils didn't get it done in Boston with their man advantages: Zajac came as close as you can get with an opening as wide open as you can get but didn't get the shot off and Rolston ended one prematurely with a "slash."   If the Devils do a better job of maintaining possession and use it in going forward, then I don't see why they can't be drawing calls in their favor - leading to those all important opportunities.   Possession will be the key to getting those calls, if not getting chances to begin with.

Steve will set up the GameThread but both of us will be at the game.  So I invite you to comment, but do keep everything clean and relevant to the game. I also invite you to comment here prior to said GameThread about this game.  Due to time circumstances, the recap might be up a little later in the evening after the game; but one will be done on Saturday.  Regardless, thanks for reading. Go Devils!