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Game 81 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. New York Islanders

The Time: 7 PM EDT/4 PM PDT

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (46-27-7) vs. the New York Islanders (34-36-10)

The ILWT Promotion: $0.15 per comment to TEAMJLO, an organization set up to fight ovarian cancer - more details here. GameThread will be open early at 4 PM EDT.

The Last Devils Game: It wasn't your traditional letdown, but the New Jersey Devils lost the last game of their three-game road trip to the Florida Panthers on Thursday night. The Devils pounded Scott Clemmensen with all kinds of shots of varying kinds of difficulty, but they could only beat him twice. The Panthers, unfortunately, scored thrice. Given how they didn't try to do much after scoring their third goal, it can be said that Clemmensen earned them the win. My recap of that game can be found here.

The Last Islanders Game: Truth be told, the Islanders faithful wished the team they supporterd had a night like New Jersey's. Instead, they were the opponents at the final regular season game ever at Mellon Arena. The Pittsburgh Penguins were pumped and simply pounded the Islanders en route to a 7-3 win. Unfortunately, Alexei Ponikarovsky literally pounded Josh Bailey's face leaving the latter to be out with facial fractures and the former suspended. Dominik's recap of the game at Lighthouse Hockey is very much worth your time.

The Last Devils-Islanders Game: After the Devils beat the Penguins again, they went over to Long Island to play the Islanders back on March 13. As great as it was to see the Devils beat the Rangers and the Penguins in consecutive games, I felt the 4-2 loss to the Islanders represented a step back for New Jersey in my recap. A strong first period performance was negated by a rush near the end by the Islanders. The second period performance wasn't good, and ultimately was never fully answered. The Devils showed some signs of hope in the third period that were eliminated after a shorthanded goal by the Isles. For the Islanders' side, Dominik at Lighthouse Hockey was appropriately happy about the performance and result. Incidentally, the Devils are 3-2 against the Islanders this season.

The Goal: Keep up the offensive effort - the goals will come. While one can't reasonably expect all four forward lines and the defense (esp. Mike Mottau) to rush up ice like mad and bomb many pucks on net in every game, the offensive effort against Florida was admirable. Here was a game that looked to be a trap game on paper: opponent with nothing to play for, it's on the road, coming off two straight shutouts. On top of that, Jacques Lemaire shuffled up the lines, throwing some flux into the matter. While the result was disappointing, the Devils played quite well considering the concerns I had prior to the game. If performances are a priority, then I'd have to say they team's been doing quite well in the run up to the playoffs.

Therefore, the Devils should look to put out a similar effort - in terms of intensity, possession, puck control, and I suppose the universal phrase of "hustle" - tonight to secure a win. Yes, the Islanders' defense isn't as poor as Florida's, but I highly doubt the Devils will run into another goaltender playing out of his mind tonight.

Check out Lighthouse Hockey for Islanders coverage from an Islanders supporter. Please continue on for my additional thoughts on tonight's game.

Let's begin with the Devils lineup. Colin Stephenson was at practice and noticed that Zach Parise, Martin Brodeur, Colin White, and Vladimir Zharkov weren't on the ice. I'd be surprised if Parise and Brodeur weren't playing tonight, so it'll likely be just a day off for them. White took an awkward hit into the boards on his own against Florida and went right to the bench. He didn't miss a shift, but he was given a day off for resting. Stephenson followed up and learned that Jacques Lemaire gave Colin White the option to rest and White said he'll play. I don't think he'll be an issue on the ice. At least, I hope not.

Interestingly, Stephenson's follow up on White speculated that perhaps Zharkov has an injury. Whether that's true or not, I doubt he would be playing anyway. It's not as if Zharkov is going to show the Devils anything now that the team hasn't seen all season. Besides, the fourth line has been working well as an energy-type line and that favors a more physical player like Rod Pelley and Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond rather than more of an offensive player like Zharkov.

At this point of the season, I'd really like to see Lemaire set something at forward. I think the defense is pretty well set. I'm assuming Andy Greene will return to the lineup tonight after he got a night off on Thursday and that he'll be back with Bryce Salvador. Will the forwards have some sort of consistency outside of admitting that at least Lemaire could be using combinations we've seen already? I don't know. All the same, here's a wild and likely-wrong guess at the Devils lineup for tonight.

Zach Parise - Travis Zajac - Dainius Zubrus
Ilya Kovalchuk - Patrik Elias - David Clarkson
Brian Rolston - Rob Niedermayer - Jamie Langenbrunner
Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond - Dean McAmmond - Rod Pelley

Paul Martin - Martin Skoula
Colin White - Mike Mottau
Andy Greene - Bryce Salvador

Martin Brodeur
Yann Danis

Tonight's game does carry importance. With the Penguins and the Devils back tied in points and wins, the Devils really do need to beat the Islanders. New Jersey controls their own destiny at this point. Yet, destiny can be fleeting. One slip-up this weekend and the Penguins can roll right into the Atlantic Division lead. The Pens will play the Thrashers in Atlanta. Let's hope the Devils succeed so what Pittsburgh does will not matter. As a result, I think Lemaire has to put his strongest lineup together and that's why I'm guessing these lines.

Let's consider the opponent. On Long Island, they have given the Devils fits. At the Rock this season, not so much. The Devils won both home games against the Islanders earlier this season: 2-1 on November 6 and 6-1 on November 28. Like the Florida game, the Islanders are basically playing the role of spoiler both tonight and tomorrow against Pittsburgh. Like most teams, they have talented players - unfortunately they'll be without Josh Bailey, as he's out for 4-6 weeks per Chris Botta - who can and will burn an unaware/unfocused team. Here's a few of them:

2009 - John Tavares 80 22 28 50 -12 22 10 0 2 0 181 12.2
2009 - Kyle Okposo 78 18 30 48 -19 34 4 0 4 0 248 7.4
2009 - Matt Moulson 80 28 18 46 0 16 6 0 5 0 201 13.9
2009 - Mark Streit 80 11 35 46 4 46 9 0 2 0 183 6.0

Incidentally, I did just name the most productive Islanders from this season. Expect to see a lot of Streit, since he averages 25:45 of ice time per game - the seventh highest average in the NHL. Of the three forwards, the most concerning is Tavares. Okposo is a shooter, Moulson has been potting goals, but Tavares has been very much involved as of late. He has a goal and five assists in his last five games. That tells me he has helped make production happen for the Islanders. That tells me he should be target #1 for the Devils defense tonight.

I'd also be wary of Dwayne Roloson. Chris Botta tipped him as the Islanders' MVP for the 2009-10 season (incidentally, his runners-up were the four players I just mentioned above). He's been the best netminder for the Islanders statistically, their leader in games started and won, and he knows how to come up big in a game. Let's hope he won't be doing his Ken Dryden impersonation like Scott Clemmensen did on Thursday. At the same time, let's hope he sees a lot of rubber anyway.

2009 - Dwayne Roloson 49 2833 23 18 139 2.94 1518 1379 .908 1

Ultimately, given that the two teams are rivals to a point, I'd be very concerned if the Devils come out flat in this one. For the last game between the two teams, you could argue it was the result of the team playing exceptional hockey against the Penguins the night before. Tonight, the Devils will not have that rationalization. The playoffs are nigh, the team will likely need a win to achieve the highest possible position, and so the performance and intensity needs to be at a high level. A second straight loss to the Islanders will not acceptable. So get out there and get it done.

In advance of the GameThread, please leave all your thoughts, concerns, corrections, compliments, feelings, and news updates (with links) in the comments. No, this thread won't count for the charity, that's the GameThread going live at 4 PM EDT. In any case, Go Devils!