They say the devil is in the details, and so far the New Jersey Devils have been nothing short of dominant this preseason. They currently sport a record of 3-1-0 in their exhibition schedule. That lone loss was the result of a split squad matchup on Monday against Montreal.
Saturday, the Devils will face their toughest test of the preseason so far when the New York Islanders come to town. The Islanders were the most surprising team in the division last season, clinching a playoff spot one season removed from their franchise player – John Tavares – leaving in free agency. They also are the Devils’ only opponent thus far this preseason to have reached last years’ postseason. Tonight’s game may technically mean nothing, but a strong Devils win will sure make a statement.
Players To Watch
Nikita Gusev– The much touted Russian arrival had himself a nice game Monday. His brilliant passing was a dazzling spectacle, although it’s still clear he has to adjust himself to NHL-sized ice. Let’s see what adjustments he makes in his game heading into Saturday’s contest.
Nico Hischier– The storyline all preseason has been Hughes, Hughes, Hughes. Let’s not forget about our other first overall draft pick. Centering the top line on Saturday, Hischier will have a chance to stand out. Based on Amanda Steins line predictions, he’s the most talented forward the Devils are putting on the ice.
Mikhail Maltsev– Truth be told I wasn’t watching the Devils game on Wednesday; I was at the Yankees’ game instead. As soon as I saw that highlight real goal from Maltsev, my attention was immediately diverted to his on ice efforts as I watched the clip on loop for a solid inning. And if I didn’t have to drive back to Jersey, I probably would of watched it another thousand times. He’s unlikely to repeat a feat like that, but boy can we dream?
Sergei Varlamov– When the Islanders let Vezina Trophy finalist and Jennings Trophy winner Robin Lehner walk, they were immediately surrounded by questions in goal. General manager Lou Lamoriello tried to answer those questions by signing the aging Colorado Avalanche cast off. If Varlamov sees playing time on Saturday night remains to be seen, but how he performs in the Islanders crease is a storyline worth watching. And importantly vital to the Islanders seasonal success
Projected Lineups (As Per Amanda Stein On Twitter)
Schneider (starting, and playing the whole game), Cormier
Keys To Success
Back To Back Games– Not counting Monday’s split-squad matchup, the Devils have yet to play back-to-back games this year. Saturday’s game will be the first time they take the ice with less than a full day’s rest. How they bounce back from Friday’s impressive win will be a true test.
Defense– The Devils’ defense may have gotten the job done on Friday night, but on paper the defense didn’t look impressive. The Islanders have had much success with the defensive-oriented team head coach Barry Trotz has put together. Can the Devils square-up against the Islanders the same way they did the Rangers? Also inserted in the lineup is prospect Ty Smith. Will he make his anticipated NHL debut, or will growing pains send him to the OHL? He’ll be getting second pairing minutes against the Islanders.
Wayne Simmonds’ Availability– The physicality and toughness that Wayne Simmonds’ brought to this team was a welcome addition. However, his availability has been spotty as he’s sat out a game with an injury and parts of last night game as well. If he doesn’t suit up on Saturday, the element he brings will be lacking from the Devils lineup.
Final Score Prediction
I’ve been liking the way the Devils have been playing this preseason. It may only be preseason, but they do have the home-ice advantage here. That should account for any hangover they have from last night’s win. 4-1 Devils.