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Game 76 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. New York Islanders

The Time: 7:00 PM EDT

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (34-36-5) vs. the New York Islanders (29-35-12)

The Last Devils Game: The Devils ended their road trip in Buffalo and the Sabres pretty much put them to the sword in the first 15 minutes of the game.  The Sabres scored two and looked to cruise to a victory. The Devils put up a much better attempt in the second and third periods, but Ryan Miller was on his game and the guys in front of him did well to keep New Jersey honest.  Unfortunately, the Devils were shut out for a second straight game in a 2-0 loss at Buffalo. My recap of the game is here.

The Last Islanders Game: While the Devils were losing in Buffalo, the Islanders were losing to Philadelphia at Nassau.  The Flyers lit up Rick DiPietro not once, not twice, but three times in the first period to establish dominance. The Islanders did get one in between James van Reimsdyk's first and second goals of the night; but there would be no comeback attempt.  Sergei Bobrovsky was too good and van Reimsdyk completed his natural hat trick to make it a 4-1 loss for the Isles.  For a recap of the game, please check out what WebBard has written at Lighthouse Hockey.

The Last Devils-Islanders Game:  On March 12, the Devils hosted the Islanders at the Rock.  While the score was close and overtime was needed, the Devils pretty much pounded the Islanders all over the ice in terms of shots (35-15) and possession (Devils finished at +14 in Corsi).  The Islanders were only dominant in taking really obvious penalties, game misconducts, whining about the officials after the game, and Al Montoya playing out of his mind to keep the game close.  However, Montoya had no chance on what would be the game winner - a perfectly placed shot in the high slot by Anssi Salmela. Yes, that Anssi Salmela.  He scored a beaut to give the Devils a 3-2 overtime win.  My recap of the game is here. For the opposition's side, here's Dominik's recap at Lighthouse Hockey.

The Goal: Score one - and then score some more.  The last time the Devils scored a goal was in the first period of the game against Boston last Tuesday.  The team's current scoreless streak is at 173:55 in terms of gametime.  Call me crazy, but I think the Devils will need to beat the Islanders' goaltender at least once tonight to win.   I don't care how it goes in. I don't care whether it's at even strength, on a power play, or even shorthanded.  I just want to see some goals by New Jersey.  Keep firing away.

I have a few more thoughts on tonight's game after the jump. For Islanders analysis, please check out Lighthouse Hockey.

Today's game is of significance because it might be The Return of Zach Parise.  Parise has been practicing with the team as of late, enough to for some to speculate/hope that he will play in tonight's game.  The important word here is might.  It has not been announced that Parise will play and it's entirely possible he may not play.  As reported on Tuesday in this post by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice, Parise himself was not sure:

Parise said he probably would have to talk to general manager Lou Lamoriello before making the decision on Wednesday. He claimed he didn’t know what his answer will be if the decision is left totally up to him.

"In all honestly, I can’t tell you one way or the other," Parise said.  "I guess we’ll have to talk. Today was OK. It was definitely nice to get another practice in and things like that, but I felt good out there. Again, the pace I think I’m adjusting a little better to it. We’ll see."

If he does not play, then the Devils will likely roll the same lines that we have seen at forward over the past few months.  If he does, then Lemaire may mix things up as he did in Tuesday's practice.  As per this post by Tom Gulitti, Lemaire liked the combinations of Parise with Travis Zajac and Nick Palmieri; Jacob Josefson centering Ilya Kovalchuk and Brian Rolston; and Patrik Elias centering Dainius Zubrus and Mattias Tedenby.  Again, they key word here is "may."  For you and I know, the plan for Parise may be to play him limited minutes at even strength, give him some power play time, and don't rely too much on him.  Should Parise play either tonight or later this week, I would recommended that expectations are kept low.  He hasn't played a game in about five months now, he's not going to come onto the ice and be a down-low dominating presence, a constant motion skater, a Corsi machine, and a goal scorer right away.   The goal for Parise is to play through his shifts without any problem - that's all.  The rest of the forwards should and will be counted on to do most of the work tonight.

That work needs to include scoring.  I know that's basic and obvious, but when you haven't scored in over 170 minutes of game time, it needs to be said.

At least it's clearly likely that Ilya Kovalchuk will play. He suffered two bruises in Saturday's game in Buffalo; but according to this post by Tom Gulitti, he and Jacques Lemaire think he'll be good to play.  Unfortunately, the Devils remain hurt on defense.  Lemaire stated that Colin White and Anton Volchenkov will not play tonight, as reported in this post by Gulitti.  This means Mark Fraser and Jay Leach will suit up again.  It also means more minutes for Andy Greene and Henrik Tallinder to carry Fraser and Leach along.

The Islanders won't have much sympathy for the Devils' injuries.  They've lost way more man-games to injury with over 500 as per Dominik's post at Lighthouse Hockey about a recent injury to Milan Jurcina.  Katie Strang, beat reporter for the Isles at Newsday, tweeted on Tuesday that Dylan Reese and Mark Katic have been called up from Bridgeport to replace Jurcina and Bruno Gervais.  That's certainly a blow to the blueline that really doesn't need it.   There is some recent good news for the Islanders.  Goaltender Al Montoya has signed a one-year contract extension on Tuesday, confirmed here by Strang at Newsday.  After bouncing about the league, the Isles gave him a shot and he's made the most of it.   Good for Montoya and also the team. 

2010-11 - Al Montoya 17 971 8 4 38 2.35 495 457 .923 1
2010-11 - Rick DiPietro 23 1357 8 11 76 3.36 682 606 .889 1

I wonder whether head coach Jack Capuano will go with Montoya in New Jersey given how well he did at the Rock earlier this month.  The stats clearly show that Montoya has been the better goaltender than Rick DiPietro, who played against Philadelphia on Saturday.   Should the Isles want to win

Then again, Montoya has been the main man in net when the Isles have played well in the last two months or so.  DiPietro was in net mostly for the first three months of the season when the Isles were struggling.    From my perspective, I'd rather have DiPietro start for the Isles.  It's not a guarantee that DiPietro will play down to his sub-90% save percentage; but it's preferable to Montoya.  Plus, in DiPietro's two starts in March, he has allowed 7 goals on 54 shots.  He has not returned gracefully.   Hopefully, Capuano will agree and save Montoya for the Rangers on Thursday night.

What is certain is that the Devils will need to come together on defense as well as pin back the Isles on offense because tonight's opponents have several forwards who can ruin the Devils' night if given the chance.

2010-11 - John Tavares 73 27 34 61 -16 45 9 0 4 217 12.4
2010-11 - P.A. Parenteau 75 18 31 49 -6 40 8 0 2 148 12.2
2010-11 - Michael Grabner 72 31 17 48 16 10 1 5 3 211 14.7
2010-11 - Matt Moulson 76 30 18 48 -10 24 9 0 3 213 14.1
2010-11 - Blake Comeau 71 21 21 42 -17 35 4 1 3 172 12.2
2010-11 - Frans Nielsen 69 11 31 42 12 38 0 6 1 150 7.3

As troubled as the season has gone for the Islanders, they have a tenacious, fast, and productive set of forwards up front.  All but Nielsen have been good shooters too.   It's not going to be an easy night for the Devils defense even if they did have White and Volchenkov.  It's not going to be easy for Martin Brodeur, who Gulitti expects to be the starting goaltender tonight.   Don't expect another 15-shot performance by the Islanders tonight.  I won't - even if they are the last opponent this season that's below the Devils in the standings right now.

All the same, what do you expect tonight?  Will we see the Devils score a goal tonight?  Will they score more than one?  Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments.  Feel free to bring up and discuss any news for tonight's game in the comments as well; please provide a link to the source of the news if you do. Thank you for reading.  Let's go, Devils.