The Time: 7 PM EST
The Broadcasting Info: MSG+ for the TV, 660 AM WFAN for the radio
The Last Devils Game: Despite my spaced out, pressure-filled feeling, the Devils actually scored two power play goals to defeat the Washington Capitals 3-2. Big thanks to Steve for taking care of things while I am (still) under the weather.
The Last Islanders Game: After rolling off four straight wins, the Buffalo Sabres brought the Islanders a big bag of misery as they out-shot and out-played the Isles 3-0. Dominik of Lighthouse Hockey recapped the affair and came up with two theories as to why things fell apart on Wednesday.
The Goal: Do not underestimate the opponent. The perception may be that the Islanders are a poor team, an awful squad, a prime candidate in the Taylor Hall 2010 Sweepstakes, etc. But this is a team that has grinded out points earlier in the season and put up some wins. Thinking this game or the next game will be easy for New Jersey is simply foolish. The Islanders' recent run of wins is evidence that anyone can get up for a game and earn themselves a win - especially if their opposition doesn't take them seriously. The Devils need to go into this game as they did against the Capitals on Wednesday if they want to earn their third win at the Rock.
Read on for a guess at lines, a caution against taking the Islanders' lightly, and some insight from Dominik of Lighthouse Hockey about the Islanders.
The list of injuries for the Devils just keeps getting longer and longer. According to Tom Gulitti, Rob Niedemayer will not play against the Islanders or the Senators on Saturday due to an "upper-body injury." He joins Jay Pandolfo, Paul Martin, and Johnny Oduya among the unavailable players. With respect to Oduya, the Devils have placed Jay Leach on re-entry waivers on Thursday per Gulitti. If he passes, he can (and likely will be) called up for additional depth on defense.
One Devil who may actually be getting healthy is Patrik Elias. He practiced at center, and with Niedermayer out, he fills in that spot in perfectly. But the decision is up to him and he'll make that on Friday according to Gulitti. If he decides to sit this one out - understandable as he's still just coming back to practice - then who replaces Niedermayer? Do the Devils move a winger to center for these two games? Do they call someone up from Lowell? This is contingent on Elias' decision. Ideally, I'd like the Devils to call someone up; but in the short term, they may be forced to have a winger play center for that third line.
With respect to guessing the Devils' lines for Friday's game, I'm going guess that Elias actually will make his season debut. I could be dead wrong, of course, but in replacing Niedermayer, he'll be limited to 14-17 minutes at most and others can cover for him on special teams. He won't be expected to make a difference against the Islanders (or the Senators), so him coming back at this point makes some sense.
If Elias isn't playing, then I'm going to guess that if the Devils don't call up a center from Lowell, then Lemaire may try Brian Rolston as a make-shift center. In that case, I'd expect Pikkarainen to move up and Andrew Peters to be slotted in as the team's 12th forward. Expect big minutes out of Greene, Mottau, Salvador, and White. Lastly, no, your eyes are not deceiving you. Yann Danis will get the start against his former team according to Gulitti.
Regardless, the goal for the Devils remains the same. Taking the Islanders lightly would be a big mistake. Need I remind you all of the 7-3 loss against the Islanders in March of last season? Or the 4-0 shutout orchestrated by Yann Danis back in February? Those are examples of what happens if you try to sleepwalk through a game against a supposedly "inferior" opponent.
Speaking of the opponent, I was fortunate to ask Dominik of Lighthouse Hockey some questions about the Islanders. I think you'll enjoy reading what he has to say about the now formerly-hot Long Island squad.
Question #1. The Islanders are coming off a big, eye-opening loss to the Sabres after a glorious winning streak. How do you think the Islanders will respond for tonight's game? Will the Devils fans see the dreaded "Overspeed" or will the Islanders take a more methodical approach to the game?
Dominik: Your guess is as good as mine. They are young, a bit inconsistent, and with a thin margin of error. The loss in Buffalo -- jolting as it was after four wins -- wasn't shocking because the Sabres essentially had four days to prepare for a rematch, while the Isles had to deal with the Oilers. As much as the Sabres adjusted their play, the Islanders just plain looked lethargic.
As long as Gordon is in charge, though you're going to see the Islanders attempt an aggressive forecheck (technically, "overspeed" was a once-used term referring to the pace he instills in practice in order to train for a more intense forecheck). When it works, it's beautiful and hilarious to see other teams cough the puck up. When it doesn't, we're reminded that we have a lot of average players.
Question #2. John Tavares is the big "name" on the Islanders this season. That said, let's talk about another impressive Islander: Matt Moulson. What does he bring to the table for the Islanders?
Dominik: Moulson is a family friend of Tavares -- Tavares played youth hockey with Moulson's younger brother -- so the first thing he brought to the table was familiarity and chemistry with the #1 pick. As luck would have it, he's also a tireless skater, strong on the puck, and possesses a deceptive shot. Plus, he doesn't fear the front of the net, which helps occupy opponents while Tavares or Kyle Okposo have the puck.
Question #3. Let's talk goaltenders. Martin Biron got a ton of work on Wednesday against the Sabres. Do you expect him to get the start in an attempt for him to bounce back, or should the Isles start Dwayne Roloson instead?
Dominik: Gordon has been alternating the two pretty regularly, and their performing closer to expectations was the first ingredient in that four-game win streak. I'd bet on Roloson, unless Gordon sees a matchup he likes.
Question #4. While Brendan Witt scoring more than one goal in a game is certainly something to celebrate, the Islanders' blueline giving up an average of 33.1 shots against per game is not. Given that the Devils are shot-happy as of late, what do you think the Isles can do to cut that down?
Dominik: Get better defensemen? To my dismay, Garth Snow stuck with the blueline he had over the summer. I think he's just riding out contracts (Sutton is a UFA this summer, Witt and Radek Martinek will be in 2011), because if he actually thinks this is an adequate blueline rather than a bridge to when the team will be more competitive, we've got problems. The high shots allowed is going to continue until the personnel changes. Aside from a few clunkers, most Islanders games these days are around a 30-30 shot matchup. These Gordon games can be wild. Given their blueline caliber, the best the Islanders can do is what Gordon wants: Control the puck more than the other guys, apply pressure, draw penalties.
Question #5. Lastly, do you have a prediction for tonight's game? Keep in mind, Yann Danis will start for the Devils.
Given Lemaire's well-noted trapist history and general ability to stifle teams from doing what they want, I wouldn't be surprised if the Devils frustrate the Islanders the same way the Sabres did. I know you guys say the 2009 Lemaire isn't a trapper anymore, but that doesn't mean he'd shy away from luring a young, aggressive coach into one.
That said, these two teams' special teams and 5-on-5 performance aren't too far off yet. Whoever earns the power plays and converts, wins.
Big thanks to Dominik for responding to my questions.
I'm serious about Matt Moulson; he is the straw that stirs the drink for his linemates John Tavares and Kyle Okposo. The Devils will have to be aware of the Islanders' emphasis on speed and quick passes while looking to work over the Islanders' defense - regardless of who is in net. I feel that if the Devils are able to set up in the Islanders' end and get cycles going, then they'll have the offensive pressure necessary to break through their defense. Unlike Dominik, I don't think power plays will decide the game - while they scored two against the Capitals, I'm not confident enough in the Devils' power play to rely on them for a win. I'd like to see them build on the goals they scored on Wednesday, but I think even strength play will carry the day for the eventual winner.
Steve will have the GameThread up later. I'm still sick, but I may be more active in terms of things happening here tomorrow. All the same, thanks for reading, leave your thoughts about tonight's game in the comments, and Go Devils!