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Game Preview #37: New Jersey Devils @ New York Islanders

The New Jersey Devils are back in action Thursday against the New York Islanders, but are presented with a new wave of challenges and players in COVID protocol.

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at New Jersey Devils
BAH GAWD, THAT’S JON GILLIES’ MUSIC!
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (14-17-5, 33 points) visit the New York Islanders (10-12-6, 26 points). SB Nation Blog: Lighthouse Hockey

The Time: 7:30 PM ET

The Broadcast: TV - MSG, MSG+2, ESPN+. RADIO - Devils Hockey Network (Access through NHL.com or the SiriusXM app)

The last Devils game

The Devils lost 4-3 on the back-end of a home-and-home with the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday night. I had the recap of that game and noted how I thought the Devils gave a valiant effort given the circumstances with so many players in COVID protocols, but they couldn’t find that one extra goal (or stop that one extra shot) to get a second straight win over Columbus.

The last Islanders game

The Islanders have hardly played any hockey for an extended period of time now, playing two games since December 19th and dealing with waves of COVID-related postponements of their own.

Their last game was a 3-2 OT win over the Edmonton Oilers on New Year’s Day. Noah Dobson tallied the game winner in the extra session and added an assist on Anders Lee’s goal in the first period. Anthony Beauvillier was the other goal scorer for New York. Ilya Sorokin didn’t have to work too hard, which is surprising considering they were facing the Oilers, but he stopped 17 of 19 shots he did see in the win.

The last Devils-Islanders game

These teams met almost a month ago to the day, with the Isles getting the better of the Devils in a 4-2 win that turned out to be New York’s first in UBS Arena. To pour a little salt in the wound or add insult to injury, former Devils captains Andy Greene and Zach Parise got in on the fun for the Islanders with each tallying a second-period goal.

John had the recap of that game, which looked similar to a lot of the losses in December that effectively derailed the Devils season. Players in COVID protocol? Check. Shoddy goaltending? Check. Bad special teams, including giving up a shorty? Check.

What will the lines look like?

Before guessing what the lines might look like, let’s see where the Devils roster stands in regards to COVID protocols.

The Devils got some good news Tuesday as Pavel Zacha, Yegor Sharangovich, and Andreas Johnsson returned to practice. Assuming they don’t fall into the Springfield Mystery Spot between now and puck drop, they’ll presumably make their return to the lineup this evening.

The following skaters remain in protocol (the date next to their name is when the team announced they entered protocols)

Jan. 7 - Dougie Hamilton (out regardless with a broken jaw), Mason Geertsen

Jan. 8 - Jesper Bratt, Nathan Bastian

Jan. 9 - Damon Severson, Janne Kuokkanen

Ruff didn’t sound like he was expecting any of those players back, so I’d operate under the assumption they’re all out on Thursday.

Amanda Stein noted on Tuesday that the Devils put Zacha-Hughes-Sharangovich together, as well as Tatar-Hischier-Vesey, so we could see those as the top two lines tonight. Johnsson will presumably slot back in on Dawson Mercer’s wing, which should leave Michael McLeod, Marian Studenic, AJ Greer, and Jesper Boqvist to fill out the rest of the forward slots.

As for the blueline, losing Severson is a big loss with how much the Devils have leaned on him. I’d expect Colton White to be called up off of the taxi squad and for the Devils to rely heavily on Jonas Siegenthaler, Ryan Graves, and PK Subban. With this being the only Devils game in a ten day span, I’d expect them all to play anywhere from 25 minutes and up.

As for the goaltenders.....

Jon Gillies SZN

The Devils got bad news on Tuesday that Akira Schmid was entering COVID protocols and that they were awaiting test results for Mackenzie Blackwood . Lindy Ruff confirmed in his media session on Wednesday that Blackwood tested positive the previous night and would also be going in COVID protocols. These developments leaves Jon Gillies as the only ‘healthy’ goaltender on an NHL contract in the entire organization, and the de facto starting goaltender against the Islanders on Thursday night.

Ruff also confirmed that the Devils would be forced to dress a goaltender with no NHL experience tonight to be Gillies’s backup. Who this mystery backup goaltender is is anyone’s guess, although I have my doubts they’ll sign Marek Mitens to an NHL contract to fill this role. Mitens started for Utica on Wednesday night and will likely start for them again on Friday at home against Syracuse. I’m operating under the assumption either the Devils or Islanders will dip into their EBUG (emergency backup goaltender) short-list to provide a suitable backup goaltender to dress and open/close the door on the bench Thursday night. You can read more on the NHL’s EBUG rules and history here, although there is precedent of teams going this route in the COVID-era when a team is short goaltenders.

Back to Gillies though, who will almost assuredly play the full game barring injury and render the whole EBUG story moot. Gillies has played one game for the Devils, a 3-2 loss to the Penguins on December 19th. He wasn’t terrible in the loss, but wasn’t great either. There’s a reason why Ruff was intent on running a struggling Blackwood into the ground instead of giving Schmid or Gillies a look and its because he clearly doesn’t trust the latter two options. Tonight though, he’ll have no choice but to roll with Gillies, for better or worse.

Regardless of the Devils situation, it is imperative they play well in front Gillies. The Islanders are an experienced, well-coached team that is more than capable of taking advantage of your mistakes when you’re at full strength. If they’re as careless and reckless with the puck as they’ve been in previous games, they will pay for it.

Final Thoughts

What do you think about this evening’s matchup? Can this makeshift Devils lineup find a way to get a win against an Islanders team that has given them fits? How will, or should, the lineup look? Do you have confidence in Jon Gillies making the spot start? Will we see any callups between now and gametime? Please feel free to leave a comment below and thank you for reading!