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Game 50 Preview: New Jersey Devils at New York Islanders

The Time: 7 PM EST

The Broadcast: TV: MSG (HD); Radio: 660 AM WFAN

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (33-15-1) at the New York Islanders (23-20-8)

The Last Devils Game: The New Jersey Devils welcomed the Montreal Canadiens to the Rock and then proceeded to be denied over and over by Jaroslav Halak outside of a Zach Parise breakaway.  The defense conceded the slot too many times, and guess what, Montreal scored on them.  Frustrating and the Devils take a step back in their 3-1 loss to the Canadiens.  My recap from last night can be found directly here.

The Last Islanders Game: The good times keep on rolling for the Islanders.  Their last game was a 2-1 shootout win over the Florida Panthers, further securing their place in the playoff-eligible part of the Eastern Conference.  The excitement is growing on Long Island, and Dominik of Lighthouse Hockey highlighted the increased confidence both within the team and the fans into the team in his recap.

The Last Devils-Islanders Game: The two teams just played on Monday, though I'd like to argue that only one team really came to play. The Islanders trounced the Devils all over the rink and cruised to a 4-0 win.   Great for the home team, awful for the Devils, and the matchup is the same once again outside of the time, the day of the week, and possibly who starts in net for New Jersey.   Great.  Steve recapped Monday's game here at ILWT. For the Islanders perspective, Dominik at Lighthouse Hockey was understandably jubilant.  The season series now stands at 2-1 for New Jersey.

The Goal: Revenge by goals.  The Devils absolutely need to finish their scoring chances today. The Islanders confident, quick, and already have a blueprint on how to approach this game given their dominating win on Monday.  The Devils need to be prepared for quick strikes, an aggressive forecheck, and a team that has been solid at home with a 12-8-4 record. Even if the Devils do account for all this, it will all be for nothing if the team doesn't get some goals.  One goal from the ZZ Pops (Zach Parise-Travis Zajac-Jamie Langenbrunner) line isn't enough.  I don't care how many call-ups or missing regulars there are, but they need to figure out a way to light the lamp.  I don't care if ZZ Pops is the only line that scores multiple goals, or if Brian Rolston blazes the goalie with a slapshot, or if Nicklas Bergfors regains his December form, or someone else steps up.  The particulars aren't important as revitalizing the confidence on offense - and that takes goals.  I know it's easier said than done, but it's the absolute truth.

Check out Lighthouse Hockey later on for a preview from the Islanders perspective. Read on for my further thoughts on the game.

If this preview seems a little sparse it's because we know exactly what both teams are right now.  To summarize:

The Devils have struggled, having one win in their last 5 games.  The power play has been ineffective with the closest strike hitting the cross-bar from a Brian Rolston laser in Wednesday's game against the Panthers. The offense hasn't scored more than 1 non-empty net goal since the 4-3 loss to Phoenix last week, and the only line that has looked like a scoring line has been ZZ Pops (who has 2 of the 3 non-empty net goals scored for New Jersey this week), as noted in this postgame post by Tom Gulitti yesterday.  Since the offense hasn't scored, this places further pressure on the defense - who has broken down/made the wrong decision a few too many teams to leave Martin Brodeur out to dry.   That's not winning hockey at both ends and the results are evidence of this.

The Islanders have been flying. They're 10-3-1 in their last 14 games and they're making some noise for the playoffs. The fanbase is re-energized, with their current record giving them something to get excited about.  Pretty good for a re-building team.  Matt Moulson, John Tavares, Josh Bailey, and Kyle Okposo will be the key threats up front, Mark Streit will always be the key threat from the blueline, and to discount the other hard-working and hungry players on their roster is a mistake (e.g. Bruno Gervais was specifically highlighted by Dominik for playing well on Thursday).  When a team is having a good run of wins, everyone looks better on the ice and they feel that way. 

As of this writing, it isn't clear who will start in net for New Jersey.  Jacques Lemaire is considering giving the start to Yann Danis and I would like him to get a start, according to Gulitti's post from last night.  Not that Brodeur has been the problem as of late, but there isn't a need for him to start again in consecutive games in my opinion. Per Chris Botta of Islanders Point Blank, Rick DiPietro will start again against the Devils.

2009 - Rick DiPietro 3 184 2 1 6 1.96 81 75 .926 1

Short of the goaltender playing abysmally, Danis or Brodeur starting won't mean much if the offense doesn't get multiple goals.  The pop-gun like offense has left Devils needing to be near-perfect in their own end and the defense hasn't been near-perfect; defensive breakdowns/mistakes have been magnified further because it puts the Devils needing scores to catch up.  Like a circle, then the onus goes back on the Devils not scoring and so forth.

These two quotes reported by Gulitti after last night's game stick out, the first is from Zach Parise and the second is Jacques Lemaire:

"I’m not sure we really tested Halak too much," Parise said. "When we did, he made some good saves, but I still think we could have made it a little harder for him."


"I would enjoy anyone to get a goal," he [Lemaire] said. "A defenseman, Marty, Scott Stevens."

I'm sympathetic to Lemaire, and speaks further to my point that I just want someone, anyone getting goals for NJ.  I'll even take own-goals by the Islanders' defense.   But I'm raising an eyebrow at Parise's quote here.  I'm pretty sure Jamie Langenbrunner tested Halak pretty well all by himself last night.  The first half of the first period and the third period were challenges for Halak to rise to the occasion (which he did).   If the most talented forward on the team is talking like this, then I want to see what he considers "testing" to be.  I'd like to see it on DiPietro tonight, if only because he certainly wasn't threatened on Monday.

With respect to the rest of the Devils lineup, I doubt we'll see any changes except possibly in net for New Jersey Devils.  I'm going to wildly guess that Lemaire will start with this group:

Zach Parise - Travis Zajac - Jamie Langenbrunner
Brian Rolston - Dean McAmmond - Niclas Bergfors
  Jay Pandolfo - Rob Niedermayer - Patrick Davis
Vladimir Zharkov - Ben Walter - Nick Palmieri

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

Yann Danis
Martin Brodeur

If ZZ Pops is the only line that has been looking good (and I think they have been), by all means, I want to see them stay together for now.  It's more important now to get goals, get results, and get confident rather than to mix and match players.

In any case, a GameThread will be up later today for commenting about the game during the game.  In advance of that, please leave your thoughts, concerns, questions, and news updates prior to the game in the comments to this game.  Go Devils! (Please?)