Game 8 Preview: New Jersey Devils at New York Islanders
Sunday, February 3rd – 3:00 PM
Radio: Bloomberg 1130 AM
This Sunday matinee, in what is definitely the most anticipated sporting event of the day, will feature the visiting New Jersey Devils (3-1-3, 9 points) and the host New York Islanders (4-2-1, 9 points). The Islanders will be playing their second straight game against the Devils
and the Devils will be playing their second straight game against the Islanders. Wait, what? Penguins? When did the Devils play the Penguins yesterday??
The Devils defeated the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum on Opening Night, 2-1, but the Isles returned the favor in overtime at the Prudential Center just a few nights ago, 5-4.
There are two ways of looking at what has gone on recently: the Devils had their 12-game regular season unbeaten streak (in regulation) snapped yesterday by the Penguins or the Devils lost their fourth straight game, 5-1, in a game that wasn’t really competitive. Of course, both perspectives are accurate, but it seems many fans have chosen the latter. Before you start panicking too much, or if you already have perhaps calm down a bit, remember that this team has barely been together for three weeks. They have had limited practice, no pre-season and most Devils were not playing in the AHL or overseas during the lockout. And while most NHL teams were on the golf course last May and June, the Devils were busy playing in some pretty important games. So maybe it isn’t time to panic just yet.
Good teams find ways to overcome adversity and bounce back from a bad game. Any way you look at it, yesterday was a bad game for the Devils. The 5-1 final score was a fair indicator of play throughout the game. The Devils didn’t do much of anything offensively and they were quite messy defensively. It doesn’t take a highly paid expert analyst or rocket scientist to realize that not scoring and not preventing your opponent from scoring is not going to lead to much success.
But let’s forget the past. Somehow, the Devils need to find a way to get off to a better start. Poor first periods have hampered the team all season, even when they were winning the first three games. The stellar goaltending of Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg covered some of the team’s flaws early on, but the law of averages seemed to catch to them yesterday. Perhaps the law of averages will catch up to the Devils, and they’ll put some pucks in the Islanders’ net today.
There’s a very good chance that by the time this preview gets posted, Pete DeBoer will have confirmed whether or not Bobby Butler will play today. Assuming he will, it will be his Devils’ debut, as the AHL All-Star was re-called from Albany last night. Perhaps adding Butler to the lineup can spark the team offensively a bit.
The Islanders haven’t played since beating the Devils on Thursday night in New Jersey. They beat the Penguins before, so this is a high-scoring team that is on a roll right now. With the Islanders scoring and winning like this, it’s like the 1980s all over again…minus the four straight championships. For now, at least…
The key to the Islanders’ success this season has been their remarkable play on special teams, similar to how the Devils found success last season. Thursday’s game was a perfect case and point: they scored three power play goals on four chances, including the bizarre overtime winner and killed all of the Devils’ power plays.
Leading the team offensively is young star John Tavares, which should be no surprise. He scored two goals and added a helper on Thursday, and will figure to be a huge factor in today’s contest as well. Despite Tavares’ team-leading 11 points, offense has come from multiple sources this season on Long Island. Five Islanders have three or more goals already this season.
Keys to victory:
Many of the keys to victory have already been highlighted above, including getting off to a good start and special teams. In three of the Devils’ four losses this season, not only have they allowed the first goal of the game, they’ve actually trailed 2-0 in all three of them. Scoring first would be a good idea for the Devils today. Scoring first could relax the whole team, and they might score again second, third, fourth, fifth and so on!
Another key would certainly be the special teams battle. The Islanders definitely dominated on special teams Thursday. Their power play completely schooled the Devils all night and the Devils were unable to respond on their power play chances. The Devils have been shaky on both ends of special teams this season, despite their strong special teams last season.
The final key is to outscore the opposition, but that’s obvious and you knew that already. The Devils must score goals at all costs short of throwing hot dogs at the opposing goalie (if you don’t get that reference, please Google it!).
Projected line combinations (subject to change up until puck drop, and after that too):
Zubrus – Henrique – Kovalchuk
Elias – Zajac – Clarkson
Carter – Gionta – Bernier
Barch – Josefson – Butler*
Tallinder – Zidlicky
Salvador – Volchenkov
Greene – Larsson
Moulson – Tavares – Okposo
Grabner – Nielsen – Boyes
Ullstrom – Aucoin – (unknown player)
Martin – Reasoner – Boulton
Strait – Streit
McDonald – Hamonic
Finley – Carkner