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Preseason Preview #6: New Jersey Devils at New York Islanders

The New Jersey Devils begin the second week of their preseason with a road game against the New York Islanders. This preview looks at the matchup ahead of the game.

World Cup Of Hockey 2016 - Media Day
Cory Schneider is expected to play the whole game tonight.
Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

In preseason, the Devils traditionally play their local rivals. So now they go to Brooklyn.

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (3-2-0) at the New York Islanders (1-3-0; SBN Blog: Lighthouse Hockey)

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

The Broadcast: Apparently, none? I’ll update in the comments with further information if there is any.

The Last Devils Game: Apologies for the lack of a recap, things fell through. Which is a shame because the Devils offense certainly did not. The Devils iced a strong lineup against the Rangers, featuring the Prudential Center debut of Taylor Hall and the preseason debut of Kyle Palmieri. Cory Schneider was also set to debut but he was held out due to soreness; therefore, Anders Lindback got the game for New Jersey. Jesper Fast put the Rangers up 0-1 early. However, Beau Bennett - skating on a line with Hall and Adam Henrique - would strike twice minutes later in the first period. His two goals would give the Devils a 2-1 lead by the ten minute mark and the first intermission. John Gilmour would tie it up for New York around the nine-minute mark of the second. Then a series of goals were scored by the Devils. Hall converted a power play to retake the lead at 12:39. Pavel Zacha made it 4-2 at 15:31. John Moore fired one in at 18:12 to make it 5-2 heading into the third. Unfortunately, the Devils needed that three goal lead as the Rangers pressed to make a comeback. Michael Grabner scored shortly after a power play ended early in the third to make it 5-3. Ben Lovejoy hauled down Chris Kreider on a breakaway, resulting in a penalty shot. Lindback denied him. However, the Rangers kept coming at the Devils. Late in the third, Mika Zibanejad converted a power play to make it 5-4. Could they hold on? They did and so the fans that count left the Rock at least pleased with the result.

The Last Islanders Game: While the Devils were in Newark, the Islanders were in Bridgeport, Connecticut to play the Washington Capitals. The Caps struck first with a first period goal by Nate Schmidt. The Islanders got plenty of Braden Holtby denying them an equalizer. That is, until the third period when Anders Lee was in the right place and the right time to knock in the right rebound right for an equalizer. Alas, the Caps would strike again early on a third period power play. Schmidt fed the puck to Justin Williams, who at the top of the right circle. Williams sent a sweet pass across to Lars Eller, who hammered a one-timer from the top of the left circle. Jean-Francois Berube had no chance. Holtby didn’t give the Isles much of a chance in the remaining nine minutes or so. Eller’s goal stood as the game winner in a 1-2 loss for the Isles. Dan Saracini has the recap at Lighthouse Hockey.

The Crucial Week of Preseason: For every team in the NHL, this week is the more important of the two-week preseason. For just about every team made their first set of cuts, sending junior-eligible players back to junior and sure-fire minor leaguers down to the minor leagues for their respective camps. Those who survived those initial cuts will have to battle for their spot in their respective team’s depth charts. Some are perfectly safe, others will have the incentive in this week to play well in these final few preseason games. Additionally, as the camp rosters are closer to being NHL rosters, the coaches have the incentive to work on certain strategies and tactics that will be closer to what they want to do in the regular season.

I would say the pressure is more on the Islanders than the Devils. Namely because the Devils will use the full week. They’ll take on the Islanders tonight, again on Wednesday, and then go to West Point to play Florida. That last game should be the "dress rehersal" for the regular season and the team will have days off between games. The Islanders’ schedule does not afford such a luxury. They will play tonight, tomorrow, and Wednesday to close out their schedule. There won’t be any breaks to make cuts, have practice, get rest, and so forth. I would expect that their Wednesday lineup would be close to what they’ll roll out in the following week. In both team’s cases, whoever’s on the bubble needs to play well and if they get the chance to play tonight, then it must be tonight.

So Who’s on the Devils’ Bubble?: In net, there’s a real battle between Keith Kinkaid and Scott Wedgewood. Both are waiver eligible and there’s only one spot behind Schneider. Schneider didn’t play on Saturday and would like to play in games ahead of the regular season. So if one or both get some minutes, then it may be the deciding factor of management on what to do for both.

On defense, Yohann Auvitu, Steve Santini, and Seth Helgeson all survived the first round of cuts. Auvitu surely raised his stock on Saturday with three secondary assists, two of which led to the team’s two power play goals. That he played on Saturday alone suggest he’s on the inside track; the production further helps his cause. We’ll see over the next three games who actually plays to earn that #7 spot on defense.

At forward, the issue has more to do with who will play where as opposed to who will make the team. But if there is a battle to be had, it involves both Joseph Blandisi and Pavel Zacha. Blandisi is waiver exempt so he may end up going to Albany until some further moves are made to make space for him. Zacha has been used as if he will be in New Jersey. Unfortunately, I believe the options for him are either New Jersey or Sarnia. Albany, which would be a nice place for him to further develop at this juncture of his career, isn’t an option given Zacha is based out of the OHL and he’s 19. So we’ll see what the Devils do with them.

Get Smarter, Ben!: Discipline has been on-going issue with the Devils in this preseason. In all but one of their five preseason games, the Devils committed at least five penalties that resulted in at least five shorthanded situations. On Saturday, the Devils handed the Rangers six as well as a penalty shot. Ben Lovejoy was responsible for the penalty shot and half of those PK’s as he took three minor penalties. Granted, forcing the penalty shot at least denied the initial shot (and the shot was saved). And the one was right at the end of the game could be argued as a "good one to take," as it prevented a potential shot. Still, as the team wants to sharpen in this regard, Lovejoy (among others) would be wiser to be smarter with his stick and his hands on defense.

Expect Cory, Don’t Expect Jon: Andrew Gross reported at Fire & Ice on Sunday that Schneider did practice and is expected to play all of tonight’s game. Schneider was ruled out of Saturday’s game due to soreness. Here’s a quote from Schneider as reported by Gross that describes the plan for this week:

"I’ll definitely play tomorrow night," Schneider said. "I’ll probably play at least half the game on Wednesday and then play the whole game Saturday. The goal is the same, definitely two, maybe two and a half to three, depending on how Wednesday goes."

So whichever of the other three goalies takes that other half may be a clue as to who’s the #2 guy to start the season. We shall see.

In the same post, Gross reported that Jon Merrill did not practice on Sunday due to an undisclosed lower body injury. It’s a precautionary measure and it does not immediately rule him out for tonight’s game. We’ll see if the precautionary rest extends for another day; I personally don’t expect Merrill to play until he doesn’t need it. I could be wrong, though. Brandon Gormley was kept with New Jersey after clearing waivers for practice. I doubt Gormley will get into another game with three defensemen battling for a depth spot on the team.

Your Take: What do you make of tonight’s matchup? Do you think the Devils will be able to take fewer penalties? Who do you want to see have a good game tonight? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments. Thank you for reading.