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Game 45 Preview: New Jersey Devils at New York Islanders

The Time: 1:00 PM EST

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+2 (Islanders Broadcast is on MSG+(HD)); Radio -660 AM WFAN

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (12-29-3) at the New York Islanders (14-22-7)

The Last Devils Game: It was another solid effort in Sunrise, only the performance wasn't enough to ensure the win.  The Devils managed to tie the game in the third period against the Florida Panthers, but they were one-shotted in overtime to lose 3-2. My recap of the game is here.

The Last Islanders Game: The Islanders hosted the Buffalo Sabres and put a beating on them. They came out strong but didn't score in the first period, put 4 up on the board in the second, and Rick DiPietro made over 40 saves to ensure a 5-3 win at Nassau.  Oh, and John Tavares scored a hat trick.  WebBard has a recap of the game up at Lighthouse Hockey.

The Last Devils-Islanders Game: It was the day that John MacLean was fired. It was the night Jamie Langenbrunner set up Josh Bailey for the first of his two goals. It was another game where the Devils were inferior to start the game, got thrown into a deep hole, and couldn't get out of it.  The Devils lost 5-1 and it felt like rock bottom, as I noted in my recap. For the other side, Dominik recapped the game with deservedly more praise at Lighthouse Hockey.

The Goal:  The New Jersey Devils didn't start off strong and paid the price on November 26 when they fell to the Islanders 2-0.  The New Jersey Devils really didn't start off strong and paid the price on December 23.  If the Devils want to avoid this happening for a third time, then they need to not come out slow, not make poor errors in your end to facilitate goals against, and be smart with the penalties.  Save for the last point, the Devils have done a good job of this in their last 3 games.  They should continue to do what they can to make it happen 4 games in a row.

I have a few more thoughts on tonight's game after the jump.  Please checkout Lighthouse Hockey for Isles-based information.

One of the areas the Devils need to improve upon is discipline.  While they've played fairly well to rather good in their last 4 games, they have conceded a combined 16 power plays to their opposition in those 4 games. Even worse, the opposition in each of their last 4 games scored at least one power play goal.   We can examine the power play goals allowed to an end, but overall, it's not unfair to say the Devils penalty killers could be doing better. Don't get me wrong, they've had some good kills in this same time span and even scored a goal on Friday against Tampa.  But some improvement there with respect to decision making and positioning would help.

The power play has also gone quiet in recent games, and as a result, it was a focus of Sunday's practice based on this report by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice.  I'm personally more concerned about goals allowed on the PK than goals scored on the PP.  Not scoring on a power play is ultimately a missed opportunity; a goal allowed on a kill does far more damage.

While I don't think the issue has to do with personnel, the Devils should get a boost on the back end. Gulitti reported that Anton Volchenkov practiced on Sunday. He should available to play on Monday afternoon.   I would think Anssi Salmela would sit for Volchenkov, as he only played against Florida because Matthew Corrente is hurt.  Volchenkov will likely play on the penalty kill as well as plenty at even strength, giving the Devils another player to use in those situations. If not Salmela, then it'll likely be Mark Fayne to sit, who was originally called up to fill in for Volchenkov.

As far as the question of who will start for New Jersey, it's a bit unclear. Martin Brodeur said he thinks he's starting, but who knows if that will hold true for Monday's game. 

What is clear for Monday's game is that John Tavares is hot. 

2010-11 - John Tavares 40 18 15 33 -17 25 8 0 4 124 14.5

Not only is he the leading scorer on the Isles, but he's got 8 goals and 4 assists in his last 8 games.  He's coming off a 7-shot, 3-goal performance against the Sabres on Saturday night.  For the season, he's the second best center on his team for faceoffs with 52.8% won on 652 draws. Only Zenon "We're not a doormat" Konopka is superior with 58.8% won on 668 draws (h/t Lighthouse Hockey for the quote).

Yeah, he's doing real well.  He's buoyed by the continued production of Blake Comeau (13 G, 15 A); P-A Parenteau (10 G, 17 A); and Matt Moulson (14 G, 12 A).  Plus, the Isles do have other forwards who can score if the puck is handed right to them, though Jamie Langenbrunner is no longer a Devil to help them out, so there's that.  While Comeau, Parenteau, and Moulson are important in their right, they aren't as hot as Tavares right now. That makes the 20-year old center the most dangerous man on the opposing team, in my view. 

For the defense, James Wisniewski is now in Montreal so his minutes have seemingly split up among the other Isles defensemen.  Andrew MacDonald now leads the blueline in average ice time (22:44 ATOI, 14 A), with Radek Martinek (21:12 ATOI, Colin White-esque offense), Travis Harmonic (20:56 ATOI), and Mark Eaton  (20:21 ATOI)  behind him.  Behind the Net has Harmonic, MacDonald, and Eaton with positive quality of competition values at 5-on-5, from highest to lowest.  Each also have started far away from the offensive zone well more often than not. That tells me that those three are doing the most work on the Islanders blueline.  Therefore, the top Devils forwards should get used to seeing those three a lot.

As far as the Islanders in general go, their team stats are unsurprising for a team sitting in 14th in the Eastern Conference. They have the third-to-worst goals scored per game average at 2.44.  They have the second-to-worst goals allowed per game average at 3.23. They're 26th in shots for per game average at 28.8 and 25th in shots against per game average at 33.1.   Their poor offensive stats stand next to their poor defensive stats.  Believe it or not, they are tied for the fourth-worst save percentage at 5-on-5 this season.   So it seems they're vulnerable at allowing goals at 5-on-5 on top of in general.

Their special teams are nothing to sneeze at, though. Their power play has the 14th best conversion rate at 18.4% and their penalty kill sits in 13th with an 82.1% success rate.  I'd almost go as far as to say they are like Tampa Bay with a much weaker offense, come to think of it.  That probably explains their poor record.

Still, taking them lightly isn't an option.  Just ask Buffalo, who got lit up at home by them; or Vancouver, who needed  a shootout to beat them at Nassau last week.  To be fair, it's never a good option for the 30th placed team in the NHL to take anyone lightly.  However, there's a sense that since it's the Islanders, that a loss is somehow unacceptable. I repeat: the Devils are dead last and already lost two games to them this season.  A third isn't out of the question. Especially if the Devils don't come out with energy and intensity like they didn't in the other two games against them this season.

The Gamethread will be up later, closer to game time. Tom will take care of your Gamethread and recap needs for this afternoon game.  In the meantime, please feel free to discuss today's game in the comments. If you want to post any news updates (or corrections or what-have-you), then please do so in the comments with a link to the source. Lastly, thank you for reading. Let's go, Devils.