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Game 47 Preview: New Jersey Devils at New York Islanders - 1/18/2010

The Time: 2 PM EST

The Broadcast: TV: MSG+2 (no HD); Radio: 660 AM WFAN (I think)

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (32-13-1) at the New York Islanders (21-19-8)

The Last Devils Game: The Devils gave up two early, struggled yet again on their power play, and couldn't complete the comeback against the Colorado Avalanche.  The loss was frustrating to watch and the Devils lost Patrik Elias after he took a hard and clean hit from Ryan Wilson.  The Devils lost their second straight game, the first set of regulation losses since the first two games of the season, 3-1 to the Avalanche.  I recapped the loss here.

The Last Islanders Game: The Islanders hosted the Buffalo Sabres and took the game to them for much of the game. While it wasn't perfect, the Islanders took the Sabres into the shootout and won 3-2  Rick DiPietro started in net and earned his first win since December 2008.   The win was the Islanders' third straight and pushes them into eighth of Eastern Conference for the time being.  Needless to say, Isles fans are feeling good about the win.  Dominik at Lighthouse Hockey recapped the game in short order here.

The Last Devils-Islanders Game: The season series stands at 2-0 to the Devils and the second win was like a snowball rolling down a mountain.  While the Islanders struck first, the Devils were not to be denied at the Rock. The momentum just carried the Devils to score goal after goal after goal after goal in the third period.  On November 29, the Devils routed the Islanders 6-1.  Those 6 goals were entirely unanswered, starring Patrik Elias and Brian Rolston - they each scored 2 goals and 2 assists.   It was Vladimir Zharkov's first NHL game, it was one of the few times the Devils scored on a 5-on-3 power play, and even Mike Mottau got a goal in this one.  For the Devils, it was great and I expressed that in my recap.  For the Islanders, it was the exact opposite of great, and Dominik of Lighthouse Hockey expressed that (as well as some complaints about refereeing) in his recap.

The Goal: The forwards have to step up in the absence of Patrik Elias. That's right. Even though he was thought to be OK after Saturday's game, Tom Gulitti reported that Elias will get some rest and will undergo further examination. That means he's not playing today and maybe not for the next few games either.  No, Lou Lamoriello didn't use the "c-word" for the injury; but it's clear the team is taking extra care that Elias is fully recovered from whatever he suffered before he plays again.  That's sensible, in my opinion.  The last thing the Devils need is a player injured because he came back too soon. Yet, it's a big blow to the team's offense, especially one that is slumping on power plays.

Gulitti reported that Jacques Lemaire wants the team to step up.  That's fair and vital to the Devils' chances in today's game. That means Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, and Brian Rolston need to pepper the net with shots (which they have been doing, credit them); it means Dean McAmmond and Rob Niedermayer have to do more on offense (Niedermayer did get a goal in Colorado, so there's that); and it means rookies Niclas Bergfors and Vladimir Zharkov need to do more than just hustle, they need to be more involved in the play.   While I'm not at all looking forward to seeing Colin White as a forward just screening the goalie on a power play, the Devils forwards need to play up in Elias' absence.  If the other forwards look lost without the creative left winger, then they will severely hurt their own chances at getting a good result on Long Island.

Read on for my further thoughts on tonight's game as well as a refresher about the Islanders.

Now, with Gulitti's post, Lemaire immediately said that Ilkka Pikkarainen will step into the lineup with Elias being out.   That's good because when he does play, he's active.  He throws hits, he took 5 shots in the Rangers game last Tuesday so he's not afraid to fire away when he's got the space, and he can handle himself out there much better than, say, Andrew Peters.  I like his feisty style and it'll be good to see it against a team that's all about up tempo hockey.

Unfortunately, because Lemaire said Pikkarainen is stepping in for Elias, it's entirely possible Peters will get another game.  No disrespect intended to Peters, but other than fighting and being huge, he doesn't really contribute much to the Devils.  Not even as a screen on the second power play unit.  I hope Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond gets in today because Leblond is a far better skater. I think that'll be more suitable against an Islanders roster that's built for speed.  Yet, I fear Peters will remain in the line up.  To the surprise of no one, Gulitti reported that Martin Brodeur will start in net today.  That's fine, I'd like to see Yann Danis get the second Islander game this week anyway.   Here is my guess at the starting lineup:

Zach Parise - Travis Zajac - Jamie Langenbrunner
Brian Rolston - Rob Niedermayer - Vladimir Zharkov
  Jay Pandolfo - Dean McAmmond - Niclas Bergfors
Andrew Peters - Rod Pelley - Ilkka Pikkarainen

Andy Greene - Johnny Oduya
Colin White - Mike Mottau
  Bryce Salvador - Mark Fraser

Martin Brodeur
Yann Danis

I felt Bergfors looked pretty decent with Jay Pandolfo against the Rangers last week and would like to see that combination.  When Zharkov moved up to the second line, his hustle meshed well with Rolston and Niedermayer. Hence, I've guess the lineup accordingly.  With Elias out, I would hope Lemaire keeps ZZ Pops together at least to start the game.

As far as the Islanders go, I look at that team and I see a confident team.  They won their last 3 games and only played twice last week.  They're rested and have every reason to play an up tempo game right at the Devils all night long, like they did to the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night en route to their 3-2 shootout win.  It was win over a top team in the East, so they know they can beat top competition.  It was Rick DiPietro's first win since the end of 2008, so the team's spirits must be at new heights.  And they also went into Detroit and stomped all over the Red Wings to win 6-0 which Dwayne Roloson's last start.  According to Chris Botta at NYI Point Blank, Roloson will be starting for the Islanders today; so he has to be feeling really good coming off a long break of 5 days and a shutout.

2009 - Dwayne Roloson 31 1864 18 7 84 2.70 963 879 .913 1

The Islanders are a quick team, they like to forecheck, and as Botta pointed out in his recap of the Islanders' shootout win over the Sabres, they can put together some excellent plays if given the space.  The Devils defense has been caught on mistakes for goals against within the last 5 games.  They must limit them tonight and be very aware of any Islander players drifting away from the action.  Because the pass could be going to right to them in very short order and catch the Devils off-guard.

With respect to who to watch out for, here's the Islanders' top line from the Buffalo game as called out by Dominik from his recap.  He may feel they are flying under the radar, I would certainly hope the Devils pay close attention to them.  These three are young, loaded with talent, and are dangerous now without even hitting the limits of their potential.  And this line doesn't even include Matt Moulson, who has a Zajac-ian like chemistry with Tavares, and is enjoying a fantastic season with 17 goals and 13 assists.

2009 - Kyle Okposo 47 10 22 32 -5 18 2 0 4 0 149 6.7
2009 - Josh Bailey 47 11 13 24 11 8 2 1 1 0 66 16.7
2009 - John Tavares 48 17 13 30 -5 10 8 0 2 0 113 15.0

But wait, there's more - which shouldn't surprise you.  It's the middle of January and the Islanders are in position to be battling for the playoffs in March instead of just playing the role of spoiler.  I'd be wary of the leader of the Islanders' defense, Mark Streit.  No, the Islanders blueline isn't exactly a wall, having conceded an average of 31.9 shots against per game (7th most in the NHL) along with allowing just under 3 goals per game (2.94 to be precise).  But Streit is a genuine #1 defenseman who racks up points (tied with Sergei Gonchar and Zdeno Chara for 13th in scoring among defensemen) and eats a ton of minutes. The Devils forwards will see plenty of him today.

2009 - Mark Streit 48 6 21 27 7 34 4 0 1 25:39 101 5.9

I'm not trying to talk up the Islanders, but my purpose in all of this is to highlight that this is a far different team than the one the Devils saw in November.  The Isles have every reason to be confident and go into this game looking to make a statement.  If the Devils concede an early pair of goals again, if the Devils can't get good shots at a relatively close range, if they are punchless without Elias in the lineup, and if they just look unprepared to begin with - then a loss to this team should come as no surprise.  I don't want to see the Devils lose their third straight, so it's important to be frank about the situation and upcoming opponent. 

After the loss to Colorado, Gulitti reported this statement from Jacques Lemaire:

"I think our mind wasn’t there tonight," said Lemaire, who called his timeout after Chris Stewart scored on a tap-in in front only 3:17 into the game. "I know that we didn’t have good energy, but that’s why I called the timeout. I could see it right away. They showed me their mind wasn’t there."

"It’s not a slump," he said. "I call that lack of preparation or not enough sleep."

Now is a perfect time to get that all sorted out and get back to winning hockey games.

I'll be at work today, so Steve will be handling gameday duties from the GameThread to the recap. Check out Lighthouse Hockey for any opinion prior to the game.  Please use this post to add your feelings, thoughts, questions, concerns, and news updates about today's game prior to the GameThread.  Let's see this team turn it around with a good performance.  The team has won without Elias earlier in the season, surely they can do it again. Go Devils!