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New Jersey Devils at New York Islanders: Game Preview #32

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The New Jersey Devils return to Long Island to take on the New York Islanders. This game preview summarizes that, yes, the Islanders are still good and the Devils, well, are not.

For whatever reason, the photostream has nothing from the 11/29/14 game. So here's a picture of preseason of John Tavares trying to find the puck while Stefan Matteau was put on his wallet.
For whatever reason, the photostream has nothing from the 11/29/14 game. So here's a picture of preseason of John Tavares trying to find the puck while Stefan Matteau was put on his wallet.
Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

This will end a road trip but start another busy week for the team.

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

The Broadcast: TV - MSG; Radio - 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (11-15-5) at the New York Islanders (20-10-0; SBN Blog: Lighthouse Hockey)

The Last Devils Game: The Devils went to Dallas on Saturday night.  It was an ugly start as the Stars took an early lead in shots while scoring two goals in the first period . Tyler Seguin finished a 3-on-2 rush for the first one.  Jason Spezza put in a loose puck created by his own wraparound for the second.  But the Devils actually got a comeback going.  Merrill finished a cross-ice pass on a power play to cut the deficit to one in the second.  Eric Gelinas fired a wrist shot that sailed by (or touched off) three Stars players before eluding Kari Lehtonen.  Alas, the Stars would re-take the lead for good.  All five Devils were watching one side of the ice.  This allowed Ales Hemsky to make a feed to a wide-open Trevor Daley, who finished the play. Not long after in the second, Shawn Horcoff finished a counter-attack with a one-timer right in front of Cory Schneider.  The Devils responded in the third with not much threatening, but they would get a late put-back by Scott Gomez.  It was too little, too late as the score flattered the Devils' lackluster performance in a 3-4 loss.  My recap of the loss is here.

The Last Islanders Game: While the Devils were in Dallas, the Islanders were hosting the league's hottest team: Chicago.  After a fairly even first period, the Isles turned up the pressure in the second period.  They out-shot the Blackhawks 17-7.  But the Blackhawks struck first with a goal by Daniel Carcillo.  Jaroslav Halak got a pad on the one-timer, but the puck popped up and went off Halak to get in the net. That fourth-line score was matched six seconds later by Cal Clutterbuck with a non-assist to Keith Duncan.  The visitors went up 1-2 early in the third with a goal by Patrick Kane.  But the Isles responded with two quick goals around halfway through the third.  Kyle Okposo converted a power play and, about a minute later, Lubomir Visnovsky struck the net with a shot.  The Isles held on to win 3-2.  Dominik has this recap of the game up at Lighthouse Hockey.

The Last Devils-Islanders Game: Back on November 29, the Devils visited the Nassau Coliseum to take on the Islanders for the first time this season.   The Isles struck first with an odd-man rush after Kyle Okposo blasted a one-timer.  Cory Schneider didn't get all of the shot and the puck ended up just lying behind the goalie.  Nikolay Kulemin saw it and poked it in.  The Devils would equalize less than two minutes later when Damien Brunner re-directed a shot by Adam Larsson past Jaroslav Halak.  The Isles would return to controlling the game and re-took the lead early in the second period.  Calvin de Haan took a shot from the center point, it hit off Cal Clutterbuck's skate, and got in. The Devils would put up an effort to tie it up again, mostly in the third period where the Devils out-shot the Isles 16-2 and put up 40 shooting attempts.  But Halak was too good.  Casey Cizikas put in an empty netter late to boost the score to 1-3.  I actually praised parts of the performance if only because it was better than recent games at the time in my recap. Dominik had plenty of praise for Halak in his recap at Lighthouse Hockey.

The Goal: Do not concede the neutral zone.  The Islanders are a team with plenty of depth and they have been a team that has been good at possessing the puck.  Their Corsi percentage is currently 52.3% according to War on Ice and they have been good at out-shooting their opponents.  In short, this is a team that is expected to move the puck well.  As we know from the Devils this season they are not such a team.  In Dallas, the Devils were particularly poor at defending the neutral zone. Against Chicago and Carolina, the opposition just passed freely through the middle section of the rink.  If the Devils want to try to get a result against the best team in New York, then they need to make that area as difficult as possible for them to skate and carry the puck through.  Whether they'll be able to do it, well, that may be another matter.

Yep, Still Good: That's the Islanders in three words.  And why not? They are currently one of only four teams in the NHL with twenty wins.  They have four players with at least twenty points and all four of them will play some kind of key role.  John Tavares (12 goals, 15 assists) and Kyle Okposo (7 goals, 20 assists) have been linemates and they are a dangerous duo as any in the league.  Per Left Wing Lock, they had Nikolay Kulemin with them against Chicago, we may see that again tonight.   Brock Nelson (13 goals, 11 assists) leads the team in goals and power play goals (8).  He's been on a line with Michael Grabner and his crazy speed and Anders Lee.  The fourth man is Ryan Strome (6 goals, 14 assists), who's been on a different unit with Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin.  I'd like to think Strome would move up but it speaks to the depth that the Isles just didn't have in recent seasons.  The one line I didn't mention, by the by, is Josh Bailey, Mikael Grabovski, and Frans Nielsen, which is a solid unit.

Defensively, the Isles are missing Johnny Boychuk, who remains on injured reserve.  Travis Hamonic has been out, but Arthur Staples noted in Newsday that he may return to the lineup after practicing on Sunday.  Hamonic returning would be a big help for the blue line as he took on tough competition.  The unit still boasts Nick Leddy, a healthy Lubomir Visnovsky, and Calvin de Haan.  So if he doesn't make it back tonight, the Isles are capable in supporting their goaltender in their own end of the rink.   And that goaltender, Jaroslav Halak, has been really good this season.

The only aspect that the Islanders aren't good at this season is the penalty kill.  They have the league's worst success rate on the PK at 71.6%. This is something the Devils can exploit tonight.  While they did not convert against the Isles with multiple power plays in their last match up, the Devils have been successful as of late with the man advantage by converting six of their last twelve advantages.   We'll see if that comes to any fruition tonight.

One Down, One Back?: Mike Cammalleri left the Dallas game in the second period with some kind of lower body injury.  However, Tom Gulitti reported at Fire & Ice on Sunday that Travis Zajac has returned to the team to practice on Sunday.  He's been suffering from a lower body injury and the mumps, but he's been skating as of late.  Coming back to practice is a good sign for a potential return.  Unless the Devils call someone up on Monday, it appears he will.  The team badly needs a center who can handle the tough competition among other things and Zajac would fit the bill.

Can We See More Minutes From Them?: I know the answer is no, but I've been enjoying the play of Jacob Josefson and Tuomo Ruutu.  They've been good in possession and they've done well in their roles for weeks now. I liked how Ruutu played with Jaromir Jagr and Scott Gomez in the Pittsburgh game before Jagr got knocked out. I'd like to see them get a few shifts up in the lineup to see if it'll go well.  I don't think Michael Ryder or Martin Havlat have done all that much positive. Given that the team is banged up and not much is going right, it would be a change that may be worth trying.  But I'm just wish-casting here.

Speaking of wishing, I'd like to see a better performance one-on-one from Damon Severson.  He had troubles on the rush against Dallas.  That may be chalked up to him being a rookie and not having a good night. Still, I'd like to see more from him.  Likewise, I'd like to get closer to an answer of what Jon Merill is supposed to be; but I'm getting closer to wishes that can't be answered in a single game.

Your Take: What else do you wish for tonight? A win? If so, how shall the Devils get more goals than the Isles? A loss? If so, how do you think it'll play out?  Maybe just a night where no other Devils player gets hurt?  Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments. Thank you for reading.