Going into tonight’s matchup versus the New York Islanders, the New Jersey Devils are five points out of the second wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference. If the team currently occupying that spot (Toronto) loses against the Senators tonight, the Devils need to defeat their division rival the New York Islanders to come within three points of the Leafs, and two points of the Islanders (who are one point out of the playoffs).
The Isles’ fortunes have turned around since the firing of head coach Jack Capuano, having gone 9-3-2 since January 17th. This is the same surge the Devils need to get on if they want any shot at becoming relevant in the playoff race. The Islanders are the final team the Devils haven’t played yet this season, which along with the recent play of the Isles makes this matchup a very daunting task for the Devils to come out on top. The Devils lost two of their last three since coming off their five-day layover, after going 3-0-1 in their previous four matchups.
We’re likely to see both Devils goaltenders split this weekend’s back-to-back workload and as of writing this, it doesn’t appear that Coach Hynes has decided on his starter yet. It looks like there will be some notable lineup changes, with Michael Cammalleri appearing to be an extra in the morning skate, while Joseph Blandisi returns back into the mix after forward Sergey Kalinin was put on waivers yesterday. Needless to say, New Jersey’s playoff hopes may ultimately lie in how they perform in this weekend’s back-to-back versus the Isles, who are in the exact same situation as the Devils currently are. Two wins could put the Devils within 1-3 points of reentering the playoff picture, while consecutive losses could set a sixth straight playoff-less season in stone.
Who to Watch
PA Parenteau…A lot of people forget the Islanders signed Parenteau on July 1st, only to waive him during the preseason. After claiming him on waivers, Parenteau has been a pleasant surprise for the Devils, tallying 13 goals and 25 points in 55 games this season. Although PA only has one goal in his last 17 games, he should be extra motivated going into tonight’s contest to play against the team that initially rejected him this year.
Taylor Hall…I sincerely think Hall is due to start putting a few more pucks in the net again after scoring just twice in his last 12 games. Hall hasn’t scored at the Rock since January 2nd (19 games), and has 29 shots in goal in his last six games. All the signs are pointing towards a seemingly inevitable scoring outburst from their star forward that the Devils would openly welcome in a game with this much on the line for their season.
Keys to the Game
Odd-man rushes…While the Isles play much tighter defensively than some of New Jersey’s previous opponents, the Devils have found themselves getting several odd-man rushes in their past 3-4 games. The Devils failed to finish on 90% of these opportunities, which has been costly for a team where goals are more valuable to than most others. Should the Devils find ways to meander around New York’s blue liners, they need to keep their odd-man rushes simple by not overpassing and make shooting their priority.
Special teams…The Devils and Islanders are virtually neck-in-neck when performing on the penalty kill and power play. In what will probably be a tight game where the difference will come by one or two goals, the Devils need to make sure their penalty killing is flawless and they capitalize on every possible opportunity if they go on the power play. Like with odd-man rushes, the Devils can’t overpass, and get as many shots on net as possible.
Where to Watch
MSG (Isles Feed)
MSG+ (Devils Feed)
When to Watch