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Game Preview #42: New Jersey Devils vs. New York Islanders

It’s past the halfway mark of the season, and the Devils are at home against the Islanders, who are second in the division.

NHL: New Jersey Devils at New York Islanders
Future Captain.
Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (15-20-6) versus the New York Islanders (26-12-3). SBN Blog: Lighthouse Hockey.

The Time: 7:00 PM

The Broadcast: TV - MSG

The Cursed Jerseys Return: It is a Retro Night tonight at The Rock, which means they are wearing white, red, and green at home. Since the team tends to perform rather poorly when wearing the throwbacks, it will be interesting to see what they do against the Islanders tonight. In their first matchup this year, the Devils beat the Islanders. In that game, the Devils were carried by the goaltending of MacKenzie Blackwood, a slap shot goal by P.K. Subban, and a wicked goal in front of the net by Nico Hischier.

Injury(/Illness) Report: The Devils, despite originally calling the injuries to Jack Hughes and Jesper Bratt “day-to-day”, have not yet had either of them return to practice. However, interim head coach Alain Nasreddine gave an update for them yesterday:

With Jack, still day-to-day, but it is maybe taking a little longer than expected. It’s nothing real major, but he needs a little bit more time. With [Bratt], he tried it this morning before everybody, so we’ll have a better update tomorrow morning.

More concerning for the Devils’ hopes of victory tonight is MacKenzie Blackwood’s illness. Blackwood only practiced for a half hour, as he wasn’t feeling well enough to do a full practice. Nasreddine also stated that he would be able to know more about that situation today.

Tired and Tiring Opponent: The Islanders are on the second half of a back-to-back tonight, as they beat Colorado 1-0 last night. Semyon Varlamov got the shutout, while Anders Lee scored the lone goal assisted by Devon Toews and Michael Dal Colle. However, it was not a deserved win for the Islanders, as Natural Stat Trick had them at just over half of Colorado’s even expected goals for percentage (xGF%), while their Corsi for percentage (CF%) dropped to 37.8%. Colorado also got the better of the Islanders in quality of chances, but Varlamov made eight high danger saves, to just three by Colorado’s goaltender. On Natural Stat Trick, I noticed that Colorado, however, shot to exactly where the Islanders allow the most shots - directly around the net and at the corners of the point.

Natural Stat Trick

And here is the Islanders’ shots allowed map at five-on-five for the season:

Micah Blake McCurdy (@InneffectiveMath)

Considering the Devils’ struggles with the concept of offensive zone possession and cycling, I do not expect a lot of shots in the slot from them tonight except for off the rush. If Colorado had trouble getting into those areas, than the Devils are going to need to take goals like the ones they had from Subban and Hischier last matchup - either hope for a shot that makes it through, or drive the net. I would expect Sami Vatanen and P.K. Subban to take a lot of shots this game.

The Goaltenders: If MacKenzie Blackwood ends up missing this game with an illness, I would expect Louis Domingue, who is currently 1-4-0 this season with a .862 save percentage and 4.15 goals against average. He hasn’t played since the December 13 matchup against Colorado, where he allowed two goals on 17 shots and left the game early with a lower body injury. I still think Gilles Senn should be getting games behind Blackwood, but that’s just me. For what it’s worth, Louis Domingue is 4-1-1 with the Binghamton Devils this season, with a .930 save percentage, 2.00 goals against average, and a shutout. If Blackwood is ready to go, he currently sits at a .908 save percentage and 2.83 goals against average with an 14-11-5 record.

Since Semyon Varlamov played last night, expect Thomas Greiss to start for the Islanders. In 18 starts and 19 appearances this season, Greiss has an 11-7-0 record, .919 save percentage, and 2.58 goals against average.

Struggling Travis Zajac: I would like to highlight a growing concern for the rest of the season - Travis Zajac’s total lack of offensive production since December. In 16 games playing 17:42 of ice time per night, Travis Zajac has two goals and two assists on 21 shots. While the offense doesn’t exactly play through him when he’s on the ice with Nikita Gusev, Zajac needs to up his scoring. He might still be able to defend top lines, and his isolated impacts on shots still bode well for him moving forward, as he still impacts shots on both ends significantly well. Currently, he is on pace for 26 points, which would be his worst total since 2014-15, when he had 25 points in 74 games. That was also when he played over 19 minutes a game, and he has seen a reduction to around 17 minutes of ice time per game this season. I think he’s still capable of reaching 35 or so points this season - though I think that depends most on his deployment under Nasreddine, and whether he gets onto a power play unit at all for the rest of the season. His linemates aren’t having trouble getting on the scoresheet, so hopefully some of those points start showing up for him, too.

Your Thoughts: What do you think about tonight’s game? Do you think the Devils can win? Do you want them to win? If Jesper Bratt and Jack Hughes can’t play tonight, who do you want to see play? How do you think Ben Street will do in his second game with the NHL Devils? Who should be the backup goaltender? How should the Devils approach the Islanders’ defensive strategy tonight? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.