With the 2013-14 season looming closer, we’ll be taking a look at the new and old Division match-ups in the new formed Metropolitan Division in this weekly blog. This week we take a look at the New York Islanders, a team that saw a change of fortunes during the shortened 2013 season.
With the new NHL realignment comes a new Division and new regular opponents for your New Jersey Devils. It also changes the way the Devils will interact with teams they’ve played against for decades now. New rivalries will form and some fire will be added to the old ones, so let’s take a look at how the 2013-14 season will look for the Devils within the new Metropolitan Division.
Your New Jersey Devils (9-2-3) will be facing off against the New York Islanders (5-7-1) for the fourth time this season on Saturday, February 16. The Devils are 2-0-1 against the Isles this season, with both of those wins coming at the Nassau Coliseum. This meeting will be the last one between the two teams at Long Island this season, barring a meeting during the post season, and they won’t see each other again until Monday, April 1 at the Prudential Center for their final match-up of the 2013 regular season. The Devils and Islanders find themselves on opposite sides of the hockey spectrum today, with the Devils looking to extend their lead on the Eastern Conference, and the Islanders struggling to build off of their powerful season start.
Three Stars of the Game
3rd Star: Evgeni Nabokov (23 Saves, 2 GA, 0.923 Sv%)
2nd Star: Johan Hedberg (22 Saves, 0 GA, 1.000 Sv%, SO)
1st Star: Steve Bernier (2 G, 3 Shots, GWG)
After getting blown out by the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-1 on Saturday afternoon, the Devils entered Super Bowl Sunday needing a win against the Islanders to stop their 4-game skid and to get some momentum back into their season. The Devils did not help themselves out early on, taking 8 PIM in the first period, including a double-minor by Dainius Zubrus. Luckily for the Devils, Matt Moulson took a 2-minute penalty for tripping 42 seconds after the double-minor, leading to a full two minutes of 4-on-4 hockey between the teams. The Devils were able to leave the first period unscathed, thanks mostly to some superb goaltending by Johan Hedberg, but were also unable to crack through Evgeni Nabokov. The Devils were outshot 10-7 in the first period.
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
Devils played the roller coaster type of game that they didn’t want. The team was consistently trying to catch up rather than staying ahead. Tallinder was interviewed after being down 1-0 at the end of 1 and stated that they needed to return to their style of hockey. Tallinder was also able to tally a goal to help even the game up in the second at 3.
New Jersey spent a lot of time in the penalty box. Justified or not, the Devils have already given up 29 power play opportunities to opposing teams this season. That is the biggest reason they lost, as the Islanders were able to score 3 power play goals; 1 of those goals being the game winner in OT. 5 on 5 play, the Devils jumped out on the Islanders early getting the first 8 of 9 shots on goal. New Jersey just wasn’t able to put one past Nabokov early. Their momentum shifted and the game turned into the run and gun style after they surrendered the first PP goal to the Islanders. It happened to be Tavares 1st goal of the season, which ended his 15 game scoreless streak.