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Game 65 Preview: New Jersey Devils at New York Islanders

The Time: 3:00 PM EST

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (29-31-4) vs. the New York Islanders (25-32-9)

The Last Devils Game: The Devils hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins and wouldn't you know it - another 2-1 win for the Devils and another game winner for the clutch Ilya Kovalchuk, this time in overtime. A fairly exciting, sometimes sloppy game, the Devils were in their own end for the majority of the first three periods, yet they capitalized on their chances when it mattered. Martin Brodeur stopped all but one and got plenty of help as the Devils blocked a ton of shots. In overtime, it was all Devils. With help from a blatant Zbynek Michalek hook, an over-committing Brent Johnson, and a great saucer pass from Patrik Elias from behind the net, Kovalchuk once again erupted The Rock.

The Last Islanders Game: Yesterday afternoon, the Islanders hosted the lowly Blues, and they played very well. John Tavares shined as he scored on a great individual effort, then helped create a turnover at center ice to set up a goal by P.A. Parenteau. They were strong in all three zones, not giving up much in their own end, playing tight in the neutral zone, and getting timely possession and second chance opportunities in the Blues end. It was a decisive 5-2 win. For more on the game, here's the recap from Lighthouse Hockey.

The Last Devils-Islanders Game: Way back on January 17th, the Devils were in the beginning stages of this remarkable run. They went to the Island and got off to a quick start. Mattias Tedenby returned after a six game hiatus and score two goals, Vladimir Zharkov got his first career goal, and Ilya Kovalchuk knotted a power play goal. They were the better team for most of the game (save for two goals against in a span of under a minute in the second period) with Marty being Marty in net. Tom had the recap for the 5-2 win and gave out some good grades for the Bizarro Devils (though now, the Bizarro Devils were the ones in the first half of the season).

The Goal: Start the game strong. They did this the last time against the Islanders and it worked out well as they cruised to a win. They had somewhat of a shaky start against the Penguins and finished the the first period 0-0 and progressed as the game wore on. Starting the game strong gives them a chance to lead the game early. These close games are exciting and like you, I'll take any win, but the Devils should try and clobber the opponent A fast outing against a team that finished their last game less than 24 hours ago would be the smart thing to do.

I have more on the game today after the jump and if you want to know the Isles side of things, check out Lighthouse Hockey.

The Devils and Islanders have been in the bottom two positions in the Atlantic Division for pretty much the entire season. Yet even with the Devils unimaginable run of 19-2-2 (and an outstanding 11-1-1 in February), the Islanders haven't been slouches either. They went 8-5-1 in the shortened month and have "turned things around" in a sense. They have won two straight now and are trying to finish the season on a high note and playing spoiler against teams in in the playoff hunt (I guess that means us now, right?). That said, you can consider this a trap game because they are one of the few teams below the Devils in the standings. The Devils should not take this team or any portion of the game lightly. Lemaire stressed this to the team and noted how well the opposing team is playing lately. I'm glad he did.

A look at some team stats from, the Islanders average 2.71 goals per game which is good for 16th in the league (Devils average 2.09 which is last) and 3.12 goals against per game which puts them at 27th (Devils let up 2.58 per game - ranked 12th). New York also puts 29.2 shots per game while letting up 32.0 shots against per game.

Objective NHL has an updated (end of February) post for advanced stats by team for the season at even strength. They have a 46.6% shot % (shots for / shots for + shots against) whereas the Devils are 51.5%. It's not much different in terms of Corsi % where the Isles are 45.9% and the Devils are 51.7%. This means that the puck goes in a more advantageous direction for the Devils and New York is usually in their own end at even strength. The Islanders don't mind sitting back and waiting on a right time to strike.

Watching some of their game against the Blues, the Isles did this for most of the game (mostly because they were up for most of the game). Their transition game was very good going from defense to offense. They got to loose pucks in the defensive zone and their breakout passes were accurate. They had a number of odd man rushes to go along with this. The Devils should make sure they get back quickly if they happen to lose possession or have the team be aware if and when a defender decides to pinch in. Watching how the forwards backcheck today will be an important aspect of the game; it's a good thing the Devils have been very strong at this in recent weeks.

In terms of special teams, the Islanders have the 14th best powerplay % in the league at 17.6%. They rank seventh and fourth in powerplay opportunities overall and at home respectively. They draw many calls and do a decent job at capitalizing on the man advantage. With three obvious penalties against the Penguins last game, the Devils should avoid being over-physical and committing dumb penalties. The Devils are one of the least penalized teams in the league thus they shouldn't stray away from their game. Speaking of the PK, the Isles also rank 13th in overall penalty kill at 82.9%. That's not bad since they ranked fourth overall in times shorthanded and average the second most penalty minutes per game (behind the Pens).

As far as personnel - Here were the lines for the Islanders yesterday:

Matt Moulson - John Tavares - PA Parenteau
Michael Grabner - Frans Nielsen - Kyle Okposo
Matt Martin - Josh Bailey - Blake Comeau
Micheal Haley - Zenon Konopka - Justin DiBenedetto

Andrew MacDonald - Travis Hamonic
Ty Wishart - Jack Hillen
Bruno Gervais - Mark Katic

Al Montoya
Nathan Lawson

Andrew MacDonald has really stepped up on the blue line after a number of Islanders have gone down to injuries. He's logging big minutes at 23:12 average TOI including 3:05 on the powerplay and 2:27 on the penalty kill. He's being used in all situations and even contributed two goals in their last game. His partner Travis Hamonic is also being used in all aspects (20:59 Avg TOI; 1:54 Avg PP TOI; 2:00 Avg PK TOI). They are the only two active, healthy, players still with the team that are averaging over 20 minutes a game. Pay close attention who these two are matched up against.

Also, take a look at the event summary from yesterday's game. The time one ice for the Islanders was distributed pretty evenly. Aside from MacDonald (25:22 TOI), everyone else was in the 10 minutes to 17 minutes range for the most part. For a game that was decided pretty early in the game, the Islanders didn't make anyone play big minutes as they cruised to a win. Jack Capuano knew very well about today's game and wanted to make sure no one will be suffering with weak legs.

Al Montoya started yesterday, which means Nathan Lawson will most likely get the nod today. The last time New York had a two-in-two set, the goalies split the games. Lawson didn't do bad at all in his outing, stopping 40 of 42 shots in a 2-1 overtime loss against the Washington Capitals.

2010-2011 Stats GPI W L OT GA SA Sv Sv% GAA SO PIM Min
Nathan Lawson - G
9 1 4 2 25 232 207 0.89 4.12 0 0 364

Something to note - The basher-idiot-goon Trevor Gillies will sit out his second game in a row due to another suspension. This time, a 10 game ban for a lateral hit to the head on Cal Clutterbuck. I'm glad for two reasons: One because he's a imbecile and he shouldn't even be playing in the NHL thus this is a good way to keep him out, and two becuase the Devils will not have to worry about him or someone getting their head taken off.

What line should the Devils look out for you ask? That's simple. The Matt Moulson, Tavares, and Parenteau line can cause some havoc. Both Tavares and Partenteau each had a goal and an assist in yesterday's game and they would probably like to start a point streak with a game the next day.

2010-2011 Stats GP G A P +/- PIM PP SH GW S S%
John Tavares - C 63 24 31 55 -16 41 8 0 4 200 12.0
Matt Moulson - L 66 28 15 43 -10 20 8 0 3 191 14.7
PA Parenteau - R 65 15 26 41 -6 38 8 0 2 132 11.4

As far as line matching, I'm not sure if I want the Elias line to find it's way against this line. Elias, Dainius Zubrus, and Brian Rolston were matched up against Mark Letestu, Alex Kovalev, and James Neal against the Pens and in terms of Corsi, they didn't do too well. They have cooled off as of late and I don't think I want them up against their top offensive line. I would rather have the Travis Zajac line, along with Ilya Kovalchuk and Nick Palmieri up against these guys to match their speed. If anything, these line will wash and it will be up to the bottom 9 or the defense to get the goals. I'm all for taking that approach. Hopefully Lemaire has a good plan for these guys to contain them.

Because of the afternoon start, the team will not have a morning skate. Instead, they had a full practice yesterday. Mattias Tedenby was back with Jacob Josefson and Vladimir Zharkov while David Clarkson was with Rod Pelley and David Steckel. I'm fine with Tedenby returning to the line-up since the Islanders aren't as physical as the Pens and he had a good two-goal outing against them. Josefson and Zharkov were fairly good in terms of Corsi last game and it would be a good idea to add an offensive minded presence to that line. Josefson was very good and I think over time, he and Tedenby can really start contributing offensively.

Lemaire wasn't too happy about the win, which is probably why he a full practice (he gave the team the day off in between the last two games). He felt the team started off slow (again, something the Devils should avoid), and stated that Brodeur had to come up big at times to keep the game close. He had a Lemaire type response on the teams game winning powerplay in overtime:

"The other team didn’t know what we were doing because we didn’t (either)," Lemaire said of the Devils’ power play.

Oh Jacques..don't ever change

Speaking of Marty showing up big, he will start today, which will be his fourth consecutive start after being out with a knee injury and sitting for a little while for the then red hot Johan Hedberg. I'm actually fine with whoever starts. Both have been good and the defense in front of them have been solid. What a terrific problem to have.

From the full practice - these are most likely the lines for today:

llya Kovalchuk - Travis Zajac - Nick Palmieri
Brian Rolston - Patrik Elias - Dainius Zubrus
Rod Pelley - David Steckel - David Clarkson
Vladimir Zharkov - Jacob Josefson - Mattias Tedenby

Colin White - Anton Volchenkov
Henrik Tallinder - Mark Fayne
Anssi Salmela - Andy Greene

Martin Brodeur
Johan Hedberg

So what do you think about today's game? The Gamethread will be up later, closer to game time. 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. Thanks for reading. Let's go Devils. #WeBelieve #NJuggernaut