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Game Preview #30: New Jersey Devils at New York Islanders

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The New Jersey Devils remain depleted at center and may lose another top forward as they take on a hot New York Islanders squad for an early evening game. This game preview goes over what's going on for each team.

Let's pull together and continue to support Cory Schneider.  He's still healthy at least.
Let's pull together and continue to support Cory Schneider. He's still healthy at least.
Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Going back to Nassau? I don't think so.  It's Brooklyn, these days.

The Time: 5:00 PM EST

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (15-10-4) at the New York Islanders (17-8-5; SBN Blog: Lighthouse Hockey)

The Last Devils Game: On Friday night, the Devils hosted Detroit. How would they do without Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique? Quite well on that night. The Devils enjoyed the run of play at 5-on-5 much more than Detroit as they led them in attempts all night long and in shots after the first period. The Red Wings would strike first and second in the game, specifically in the second period.  Henrik Zetterberg's shot was re-directed by Gustav Nyquist past Cory Schneider. Later in the period, Mike Cammalleri had a glorious shorthanded shot robbed by Jimmy Howard. The Red Wings counter-punched and responded with a great high shot by Tomas Tatar to make it 0-2. The Devils were playing well - except on the power play - yet they had nothing to show for it.  Their good play would be rewarded in the third period. Damon Severson scored his first of the season early in the third to make it 1-2.  Later, the Devils actually didn't waste a power play situation - and got the equalizer.  Kyle Palmieri unleashed a blast from distance that Sergey Kalinin got a piece of to make it 2-2.  The goal survived a review and a coach's challenge.  Overtime was needed and this was a tense one.  Detroit nearly scored early, nearly got a jam in but the puck never crossed the line, but the Devils had the knock out punch.  Lee Stempniak won a puck on defense and flung an arc out into the neutral zone. Palmieri beat Tatar to it, went in alone, and roofed a backhander past a sprawled Howard for a dramatic compeletion of a comeback.  My recap of the big win is here.

The Last Islanders Game: Last night, the Islanders visited the Columbus Blue Jackets. It wasn't the sharpest of periods for the Isles as they got out-shot 4-9.  However, Kyle Okposo made one of those four shots count. He stole a puck from Gregory Campbell and beat Curtis McElhinny to make it 1-0 for the Isles.  Columbus would respond in the second period with more offense and a goal from Brandon Saad.  About a minute later, the Blue Jackets took a penalty and about a minute into it, Frans Nielsen put home a loose puck past McElhinny and a net-defending David Savard to make it a 2-1 score.  The Isles got out-shot 7-13 in that period, so that was a bit better.  In the third period, the Blue Jackets did not out-shoot the Islanders by a good margin - or any margin at all. They did make a comeback. A slapshot by Cam Atkinson beat Jaroslav Halak five-hole at the 8:20 mark to make it 2-2.  The Isles did not respond at all. Could they hold on for overtime? Within the final minute of regulation, Saad took a shot that Boone Jenner re-directed in to make it 2-3. Or did it? The goal was wiped off from Toronto as they ruled it was a kick.  The Isles got another point as they headed into a fifth straight game beyond regulation.  Could they salvage the game? They would.  Okposo and Josh Bailey would get a 2-on-0 and Okposo finished it. The Isles pulled out of Columbus with a 3-2 OT win.  Dominik praised the play of Halak and Okposo in his recap at Lighthouse Hockey.

The Last Devils-Islanders Game: On November 3, the Devils visited the Islanders.  The Isles got off to a good start on the ice and on the scoreboard.  Chaos in front yielded a goal for Brock Nelson that just got in a fallen Cory Schneider to make it 0-1.  The Devils really didn't start trying to respond until later in the second period, but even then the Isles had an answer for everything New Jersey was trying to do. The Devils would get on the board in the third period thanks to a fortunate bounce. A shot by Palmieri hit Nick Leddy's skates and went right to Travis Zajac. Jaroslav Halak had no chance to stop the shot and so it was 1-1.  The Isles responded by just putting up shots and attempts. The Devils really didn't.  The home team would get the go-ahead goal when Casey Cizikas pounded in a rebound with a little over two minutes left.  The Devils couldn't create a late equalizer - a late power play gave them hope - and so the game ended 1-2. I didn't think it was as close as the score made it seem in my recap. Over at Lighthouse Hockey, Dominik recapped the game explaining how close it was.

The Goal: Do what you did on Friday, take what's given and give very few easy plays. The Devils worked to make exits that didn't always involve going up the boards and it paid off dividends.  The Red Wings didn't just sit in New Jersey's end for several minute-long stretches, which is an improvement over recent games. The Devils should seek to do that again tonight.  This also requires making life difficult for the Isles going through the neutral zone. While a missing Zajac and Henrique makes it a very tough task, that they were able to get in Detroit's - also a good team like the Isles - way in the middle and frustrate them means it's possible.  If they can replicate that, then they have a good chance as any to get a positive result tonight.

It Could Be Three Gone from the Big Five: We already knew Zajac would be out tonight.  Yesterday, not only did Tom Gulitti confirm at Fire & Ice that Henrique would not play but also that Lee Stempniak was out sick. It's possible that Stempniak could play tonight, but that's another hit to the team that they really can't afford.  Stempniak is tied for second on the team in points, he has 64 shots this season, and he's been a staple of the top-six since the beginning of the season. The team wouldn't have to call anyone up to replace him - I think Stefan Matteau would just draw back into the lineup - but he would be missed.  His potential absence or a less than 100% Stempniak means the team will have to lean even more on Mike Cammalleri and Kyle Palmieri producing.  It also means that should Jiri Tlusty, Patrik Elias, Jacob Josefon, and others get opportunities to attack, then they really need to make the most of it.  Likewise, they have to be on point on defense because the Isles remain a fairly deep team up front and they have a formidable top four on defense.

Power Play Thought: I just thought of something.  Regardless of whether Stempniak is able to play or not, why doesn't John Hynes put two defensemen on one or both power play units? He has the personnel.  Damon Severson and Eric Gelinas can bring it from the blueline and either can join John Moore and David Schlemko.  Should the coaches continue to not really trust Gelinas, then they can give Andy Greene a shot at it. They're not at all bad on offense, they can make good passes and their shots are good too.  Doing so could allow Palmieri to move up to a wing position, where he usually plays on his unit. This could also provide some additional offense from the blueline; which has been lacking, as Alex wrote yesterday. It could help both the lacking production from the defense and keep the relatively good power play times rolling.

Saving the Night, Maybe: Cory Schneider will start this game, as confirmed by Gulitti yesterday. He was very good against Detroit. He'll likely have to be again given the opponent and the fact that the Devils are depleted up front. Of course, a goalie can only keep a game close, he cannot score goals.

These Guys Are Also Quite Good: The Islanders did play last night, but talent matters so let's go over that.  Starting with the forwards, there's a some underwhelming production as of late.  John Tavares has only one point - a goal - in his last six games, but he's still John Tavares so he's still an amazing threat up front.  Likewise, his linemate Brock Nelson (per Left Wing Lock) has also only one goal in his last six games. The other linemate is Kyle Okposo and he's not slumping.  Not anymore.  He put up two goals and an assist last night to take over the team lead in scoring. It adds to a goal and two assists in his last six games.  It's still a powerful first line for any team to handle.  Making it more difficult is the fact they have Frans Nielsen continuing to be very good in all of the things he does centering Anders Lee and Josh Bailey.  They also have an effective third line of Nikolai Kulemin, Mikael Grabovski, and Ryan Strome. So the Isles are well supported even when #91 isn't so hot. When he does return to his usual level of production, look out. Until then, you underestimate Nielsen, Okposo, and others at your peril.

On defense, the top four for the Isles are a group most teams would be happy to ride with.  The pairings of Nick Leddy & Travis Hamonic and Calvin de Haan & Johnny Boychuk have split the tough minutes and defensive zone starts. They have handled their business in their own end and they fire quite a few shots of their own.  It hasn't necessarily led to a lot of points, but Boychuk and Hamonic have been particularly prolific at letting it rip from distance.  If the Devils do get a chance to push back their third pairing, they should do so. Thomas Hickey and Brian Strait represent a soft spot in their blueline - on paper, at least.  It's possible Marek Zidlicky can draw in for one of them to bolster the third pairing. Devils fans know he can be big help going forward and a big source of annoyance if his passing is off or he's forced to play defense.  The Devils should really make a point of it to make their shifts against the Islanders' third pairing count tonight.

In net, the Isles have been backstopped by Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss.  Both have been quite solid in net, posting save percentages upwards of 92.5% in all situations this season. Halak played last night, so I would think the Devils would get Greiss tonight.  He's been used fairly regularly and he's got excellent even strength (93.8%) and penalty kill (89.1%) save percentages. Even if the team had Zajac and Henrique plus a not-sick Stempniak, he would pose a challenge tonight.

As a team at even strength, their numbers at War on Ice are still pretty good. They got took a hit in the possession department by Columbus last night, but they aren't too far from the break even point (50%) in possession.  They still have a decent shooting percentage and much better save percentage than last season. Special teams have been very good for the Isles. Their power play conversion rate is just outside of the top ten and their penalty killing success rate is in the top-five of the NHL. The Devils would be wise to avoid this game being decided by special teams, especially with two to three special teams regulars out of the lineup.

One Last Thought: The Isles really are hot right now. It was close last night but Okposo's overtime winner means that the Isles are 7-0-2 in their last nine games.  Their last five games all went beyond regulation and they came out ahead 4-0-1.  They're more than willing and able to get wins in OT and in the SO.  The Devils may be pleased with a point given the state of their roster, but they should try to get the win within sixty rather than risk a hot team continuing their current post-sixty-minute heat.

Your Take: The Devils get an early evening game against the more tolerable team in New York City.  The two games these two teams have played each other in have been close. Will this one also be close? What do you think the Devils will do if Stempniak does not play tonight?  How can the Devils handle the Islanders' talent? Can they do to them what they did to Detroit?  Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments.  Thank you for reading.