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Game Preview #18: New Jersey Devils vs the New York Islanders

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The Devils hope to get back to their winning ways tonight, but the Islanders are a stingy team - and tough to beat.

New York Islanders v New Jersey Devils
Jack Hughes needs to lead the way tonight, especially if Nico is still out.
Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (7-8-2) versus the New York Islanders (11-6-4). SBN Blog: Lighthouse Hockey

The Time: 7:00 PM ET

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+

Tough To Score

The Islanders are coming fresh off a shutout of the Penguins. Ilya Sororkin got his second shutout and the team’s fifth of the season. Sororkin is 2-2-1 with a .912 save percentage and 2.19 goals against average this year, while Semyon Varlamov is 9-4-3 with a .924 save percentage and 2.17 goals against average. For the Devils to beat the Islanders, they are going to need to get dangerous shots on goal and tighten up defensively. The Devils are 1-1-0 against the Islanders this season. In the first game, Scott Wedgewood gave up four goals on 35 shots, with two goals against coming on the Islanders’ power play in the third period. The Devils only scored one that game. In the rematch, the Devils only took two penalties, killed them both, and Scott Wedgwood saved all 28 shots against as the Devils won 2-0. Here are some highlights from that victory, in which Jack Hughes and Pavel Zacha got the scoring for the Devils:

Even though they only scored two that game, the Devils got close to the net and made life difficult for Sororkin at times. Among other opportunities close to the net, Miles Wood and Pavel Zacha just missed on net-side opportunities, both picking up wide shots that went off the end boards and trying to bury them on the other side of the net. Forcing the goalie to move laterally and worry about a multitude of threats (especially on the rush) is the key to the Devils scoring. Since they’ll likely be facing Varlamov, this will be even more important to execute.

Fans in the Arena

Because of the easing COVID restrictions in the state, the Devils are allowed to host fans at 10% capacity starting today.

Given the team is now playing in front of fans, there will be no artificial crowd noise, and there won’t be a backdrop of empty seats for the games. Personally, that backdrop has always been off-putting to me, so I’m at least somewhat glad to no longer have to see that. As for the science of whether this is a good decision yet, well...it was going to happen eventually, I guess. Hopefully nobody gets sick from it.

The Injuries

Nico Hischier missed the last game with a facial injury after a P.K. Subban slap shot was deflected into his face against the Capitals on Saturday. Miles Wood left the game on Sunday after Zdeno Chara attempted to clear the puck and inadvertently hit him in the ear. While nothing has been said about Nico Hischier since Lindy Ruff said he was day-to-day on Sunday afternoon, Ruff also said this about Wood after the game on Sunday:

In a goal slump or not, missing the team’s top goal scorer this season would hurt the Devils. It would be particularly bad if Nico Hischier also continues to be out with the after-effects of taking a deflected slap shot to the face. Mikhail Maltsev already drew in for the Devils on Sunday in the place of Nico Hischier, while Pavel Zacha centered Jesper Bratt and Nikita Gusev. If Wood is out, then Ruff will likely need to dress Janne Kuokkanen.

Running Blackwood Into the Ground

Since getting a rest day on February 21, MacKenzie Blackwood has played four straight games for the Devils, including a back-to-back on the weekend. Since returning from the COVID outbreak, Blackwood gave up four goals on 66 shots (.939 SV%) in his first two games - which the Devils won. Then, he gave up three goals on 29 shots - his first game with a save percentage under .900 this season - and was rested the next day. Then, he went 1-1-0 in his next two games with a .912 save percentage, but was not rested and gave up seven goals on 46 shots (.848) to the Capitals on the weekend back-to-back.

It’s one thing to be the starting goaltender, but Lindy Ruff’s decisions the past week with Blackwood better not be the norm moving forward. The Devils carry three goaltenders. Since the team returned from COVID, Blackwood played seven games in 12 days, while Aaron Dell made one appearance. I would like to see either Scott Wedgewood or Aaron Dell get the start tonight. Wedgewood has already beaten the Islanders once this season - the Devils just have to play as stronger defensive game than they’ve been playing.

Your Thoughts

Who do you think will win tonight? Who should the Devils play in goal? Should Ryan Murray be dressed tonight? Should we be worried about Nico Hischier again? What do you think the lineup should look like tonight, with or without Hischier and Wood? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.