Game 34 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. New York Islanders

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+(HD); Radio - 660 AM WFAN

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (9-22-2) vs. the New York Islanders (7-18-6)

The Last Devils Game: The Devils followed up a blow out loss to Atlanta with a blow out loss at Washington. It took over 27 minutes or so, but the Capitals blew the game wide open in the second period and never looked back whilst the Devils never looked competent at 5-on-5.  Different night, different opponent, same result - such was the summation of my recap of the game.

The Last Islanders Game: The New York Islanders hosted the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday night and kept it close all night long.  60 minutes was not enough to break a 1-1 deadlock.  Overtime was the prescription and, tonight, the cure for the malady that is the tied game. John Tavares scored his ninth goal of the season to give the Isles a big 2-1 win.  Dominik at Lighthouse Hockey has a recap of the victory right here.

The Last Devils-Islanders Game: The Islanders were on the brink of losing each and every one of their games in November.  A horrid losing streak that lasted 14 games.  Then they played the Devils, who repeated their standard operating procedure of getting down by 2 or more goals first and then lamely trying to make it up with shots in the third period.  The result? A 2-0 Islanders win.  In my recap, I called it "rock bottom" for the season back in November. However, this month has gone a long way of arguing against that moniker.  Over at Lighthouse Hockey, Dominik was understandably happy with just the streak being over.

The Goal: Play like you actually have one in mind, Devils. Even if the other team scores first; stop talking about this sucks and start playing like you're trying to reach for something.  Maybe then you'll actually play like professional ice hockey players in the world's best hockey league instead of looking worse than the Mites on Ice kids that come out during the first intermission at the Rock.  Maybe.

I have a few more thoughts about tonight's game after the jump.  Please visit Lighthouse Hockey for an Islanders take on tonight's game.

On a more specific note, I will say I'm glad that John MacLean has had the team review the many defensive shortcomings on video, as confirmed in this Wednesday post by Tom Gulitti.  The players need to see the horror just as the fans have, only they have the power to do so. As much as Devils fans want to point fingers at MacLean (I think that's justified), Lou (eh, sort of, let's discuss this later in the week), and Jeff Vanderbeek (this makes no sense, he just supplies the money), those figures have no control when a defenseman takes himself out of position, when a backchecker doesn't put his stick down, when a skater doesn't do anything to a player in the slot, or when a player misses their coverage among all kinds of poor errors.  

The tactics can be perfect, the personnel decisions understandable, and the money may even be right, but if the guys on the ice can't execute, it's all for naught.  So, Devils players from Arnott to Zajac and all in between, stop the standing and moping, and stay focused when the play's in your own end for 60 minutes.

Anyway, the Devils may or may not make some changes to their lineup.  Gulitti reported that Ilya Kovalchuk was ill on Wednesday, so he didn't practice.  If he's healthy, he'll play. If not, well, he won't. Unfortunately, based on Gulitti's post, MacLean may keep the same forward line combinations used in Washington.  So while they weren't lit on fire by the Caps, we may get to see it tonight against the Isles.  Sigh.   From the same post, Mark Fraser practiced, which is good news.  Though, he's not at all ready for game action yet, so the #6 defenseman spot is only up for grabs between Matt Corrente and Anssi Salmela for tonight's game.  If Kovalchuk is too sick to play, then MacLean might eschew requesting a 12th forward and go with 7 defensemen.

Also: MacLean did confirm that Martin Brodeur would start tonight; while Gulitti confirmed from both Brodeur and Lou that the legendary goaltender will not be traded.  Which should surprise nobody except for those bored/ignorant people who like to speculate things they have no knowledge about.

As for the Islanders, well, it's easy to look down on them.  But that would be shortsighted.  They are now tied with New Jersey in the standings with 20 points.  Don't take them lightly tonight, just as the Devils shouldn't. After all, this team beat the Devils a month ago.  Spare the "but they're the Islanders, the Devils aren't as bad as them" talk because right now, they definitely are on the same level.

Given that the Isles played last night with Dwayne Roloson in net, the visitors may give Nathan Lawson his second NHL start of his career.  With only one NHL game underneath his belt, it's tough to get a bead on what he's like.  He made his league debut against Phoenix on December 18 and Dominik didn't seem to have too many complaints in his recap of the game. Lawson made 32 saves and the team only lost in a shootout.  The scouting report on his player page lists his butterfly stance as a strength and a weakness. Perhaps the Devils should aim high, but the Devils should be more concerned on consistently getting the puck into the Isles' end more first before worrying about where to place shots.

Of course, the Isles could just give Roloson another game in a row after facing 35 shots in 63 minutes of work.

Recently, the Isles have recalled Josh Bailey prior to the Tampa Bay game on Wednesday.  He joins a forward group that features Tavares (9 goals, 18 points, tied for team leader in points); Matt Moulson (11 goals, 17 points, team leader in goals); Blake Comeau (6 goals, 17 points); and P-A Parenteau (6 goals, 17 points) among their most productive players. And from the blueline, James Wisnieuski is right up there with Tavares in points with 2 goals and 16 points.  While Bailey wasn't productive before his demotion, his time in Bridgeport was fruitful with 6 goals and 11 assists in 11 games. Perhaps that's all he needed as a young forward: a change in scenery and situation, a chance to be get his groove back amid less pressure.   Perhaps he will be a factor tonight - something to keep an eye on.

In any case, the stakes for this game is clear: a Devils loss means they will go celebrate Christmas (should they choose to) as the worst team in the NHL. It would truly be rock bottom, like a giant hunk of coal in a stocking.  A Devils win means they will at least not be dead last for a little while.   I don't know about you, but I'll take the latter at this point - that's how bad it's got this season.  Don't give the fans at the Rock coal, Devils, show them something good for a change. We've seen enough bad hockey to warrant at least a little gift and that's not even including the potential badness of the 29th and 30th ranked teams playing each other in a game.

The Gamethread will be up later, closer to game time. In the meantime, please feel free to discuss today's game in the comments. If you want to post any news updates (or corrections via new information), then please do so in the comments with a link to the source. Lastly, thank you for reading. Please, let's go, Devils.

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