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Game 68 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. New York Islanders

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (31-32-4) vs. the New York Islanders (27-32-10)

The Last Devils Game: Last night, the Devils went down to Atlanta and played a close game against the Thrashers.  Of all areas, the New Jersey power play were the best.  They put up 13 shots on net over 8 minutes and scored all 3 of New Jersey's goals.  What's more is that each of them were important: Travis Zajac's first and Ilya Kovalchuk's goal tied up the game at the time of scoring and Zajac's second won the game in overtime. The Devils won 3-2 and I recapped it right here.

The Last Islanders Game:  Last night, the Islanders played the final game of their 5-game home-stand against the Boston Bruins.  The good times kept rolling for the Isles as they made up a 2-goal deficit, pounded the Bruins in shots 41-28, took the lead in the third period, and added an empty net goal to seal a 4-2 win and a 4-0-1 record in their last 5 games.  Michael Grabner and Jack Hillen were shot machines with 7 on net and each put in a goal, while Al Montoya delivered another fine night in goal.  Dominik recapped the 4-2 win here at Lighthouse Hockey.

The Last Devils-Islanders Game: In that long, long time ago that was last Sunday, the Devils visited Long Island for an afternoon game against the Isles.   The Devils weren't so bad, Brian Rolston and Patrik Elias had a great game, and Martin Brodeur was his usual self.  However, Al Montoya and the Isles defense limited the Devils to only two goals and the Isles scored on two breaks.  Not even overtime was enough as a shootout was needed, the first one for New Jersey since November.  The Devils eventually won it with Rolston beating Montoya on a deke, giving New Jersey the 3-2 win.  My recap of the game is here. For the other side, here's Doninik's recap at Lighthouse Hockey.

The Goal:  Maintain control.   At the risk of relying on a generalization, the Islanders are a hard-working team filled with players with speed.  They have several players who can and will streak up ahead to catch Devils unaware.  They will forecheck deep if they see the Devils looking slow, just as they did on Sunday.  The forwards will come back to help on defense even if they fly in.  While they just played last night in Long Island, so they aren't coming in off a long trip like the Devils.  Also like the Devils, this is not a team that gives up on games even if they are being beaten badly in possession. If Michael Grabner, Frans Nielsen, John Tavares, and others are able to freely move into New Jersey's zone, then the Devils could be in serious trouble.  Therefore, I think the Devils need to avoid playing to a strength of the Isles and maintain as much control as possible.

I have a few more thoughts on tonight's game after the jump.  Please check out Lighthouse Hockey for an Islanders-based take.

Since the two teams played less than a week ago, I will defer to Matt's preview for anyone interested in how the Islanders' season has been going.  He did a great job capturing the opposition's strengths (the power play, the transition game) and weaknesses (possession).  So go check that out.  Here are a few points I want to hit on separately.

First, the Isles are enjoying a lovely run of their own.  Sure, it's not as massive as New Jersey's 21 wins out of 26 games.  However, 10-3-3 in the last 16 is still extremely good and the Islanders went 4-0-1 in their last five games, all at home. The Islanders will kick off their five game road trip at the Rock and have a reason for revenge as their division rival prevented them from a clean sweep at home.   If nothing else, do not look at the Islanders and think this should be a win.  They're hot too.

Second, how the Devils match up against the Isles top two lines will be important.  Matt's preview took a closer look at the unit of John Tavares, Matt Moulson, and P-A Parenteau.  All three are the first, second, and third highest scorers on the team. 

2010-11 - Michael Grabner 65 28 14 42 15 8 1 3 3 181 15.5
2010-11 - Frans Nielsen 62 9 29 38 13 28 0 5 1 137 6.6
2010-11 - Kyle Okposo 25 4 12 16 10 30 0 0 2 44 9.1

However, the second line of Michael Grabner, Frans Nielsen, and Kyle Okposo could be just as dangerous.  They don't play as much as the Tavares line, so they don't get to face the opposition's top defensemen.  Grabner has been lighting them up, his 28 goals is second on the team behind Moulson's 29 and nearly all of them came at even strength.  Containing him will be important. Nielsen isn't the big finisher like Grabner, but he's a force on penalty kills and has good awareness both on and off the puck.  He's also quick enough to go deep on a forecheck and then get back to help his teammates in his own zone.  The numbers from Okposo may not look great, but his season was massively cut short by a shoulder injury. He's back and he has been showing why he's so well regarded by the Isles. He works hard, he skates hard, and he is hard to defend as a result.  

Grabner's goals will command your eye, but his linemates have fit in well enough that they cannot be ignored. They have been productive as of late. In the last 5 games, Grabner has 3 goals and 2 assists; Okposo has 1 goal and 5 assists; and Nielsen has 1 goal and 5 assists.  While I think stopping the Tavares line will be a priority (and the Elias line did a great job of that , the Devils' second defensive pairing and whichever line gets matched up with them (the Zajac line if Sunday's game is anything to go by) will have a lot to do tonight.   Good luck to them.

Third, goaltending is up in the air for both teams. As of this writing, there isn't any update as to who will start tonight.  Both Martin Brodeur and Al Montoya played well last night, but who knows if both will get a rest. For the Devils, I think Johan Hedberg should get the start.  The Moose has played well when he was last starting games.  Plus, Brodeur's workload last night saw him play beyond 60 minutes, face 26 shots, and get bowled over by Nik Antropov.  A night off wouldn't be the worst idea in the world.  

2010-11 - Al Montoya 12 685 7 2 23 2.01 317 294 .927 1

As for the Islanders, Montoya has given the Islanders great goaltending in his 12 appearances.  He actually has played both games of a back-to-back, starting against the Blues and Devils last weekend.   Jack Capuano may go with Montoya again and perhaps he should if the other option is Nathan Lawson and his 89.2% save percentage.

Fourth, keep on eye on Jacob Josefson. His ELC is burnt, but at least he's been playing like a NHL player.  He had a great game against the Islanders on Sunday, picking up his first assist in the NHL and putting up a +10 in Corsi.  He's been getting at least 11 minutes a night in his last 4 games and his Corsi in each have been +4, +10, 0, and +3.    He's not on a level like Zharkov was last season, but it's proof he's been doing well against NHL competition.  Let's hope it continues because any additional contributions from the bottom two lines is always welcomed.

With both teams playing last night, I'm sure there will be news later in the day.  Please feel free to post them in the comments here.  I'll be at the game tonight in my usual seat; if you're able to go, go.  There will be a supporter's group up in Section 117; I hope they and those around them bring the noise.  Feel free to discuss tonight's game in the comments as well. Let's go, Devils!