Game 22 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. New York Islanders

The Time: 1:00 PM EDT

The Broadcast:TV - MSG+ (Devils feed), MSG+2 (Islanders feed); Radio - 660 AM WFAN

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (12-8-1) vs. the New York Islanders (5-11-4)

The Last Devils/Islanders Game: And Moose shall save us. Bailed out by some great saves by Johan Hedberg, some timely blocks by Anton Volchenkov andtop-notch special teams play the Devils squeezed out a hard fought 1-0 victory over the scrappy New York Islanders. The Devils put themselves in a hole early by committing 3 minor penalties in the first half of the opening period but Hedberg and the penalty killing unit were up to the task and continued their run of success. The Devils have killed 22 straight and 51 out of the last 52. Very impressive.

The only goal was scored on a broken play by Petr Sykora. Adam Larsson tried to blast a shot from the point on the team's first power play and his stick broke during the shot. Luckily the puck went right to Sykora who wristed the shot past Al Montoya. Despite the assist (his fourth in the last four games) Larsson struggled with turnovers and nearly gave the game away twice in the third period. Thankfully Hedberg bailed him out bothtimes. First, Hedberg poke-checked the puck away from Michael Grabner after Larsson turned over the puck in his defensive zone, and then (after another Larsson turnover/Kovalchuk hooking penalty) he made a fantastic glove save on Grabner (yes, him again) on a penalty shot.

The Devils then played solid team defense the rest of the way to preserve the victory.  John's recap of the game is here.

Lineup Changes?  Martin Brodeur will start in goal for the Devils tonight.  Unless coach Pete DeBoer feels that Adam Larsson needs to sit a night or he thinks that Rod Pelley might play a smarter game than Brad Mills, I am going to assume the rest of the lineup stays the same as yesterday.

For the opposition's take on this game and last night's game, please check out Islanders SBNation site Lighthouse Hockey. After the jump I touch on a few different things to look for in today's game.

It's not often you play the same team in back to back games, so I am going to just point out a few key areas that I think can make a difference in today's game. John wrote the preview of last night's game which can be accessed here, (as usual, he does a great job) and obviously a lot of the information in that writeup is still relevant for today's game.

Short Turnaround:

It's not the first set of back to back games for the Devils this season, but considering the 1pm start time it is technically the quickest. Forwards Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise, Adam Henrique and Patrik Elias all played in excess of 20 minutes in yesterday's game, so fatigue could become a factor with the quick turnaround. The fourth line will have to play more than it did yesterday (Brad Mills/Cam Janssen played 1:50 each while Mattias Tedenby played 6:55) to help rest the top forwards. Does that mean Brad Mills or Cam Janssen sits for Rod Pelley? I believe Pelley has been a better option than Mills since pre-season, so I wouldn't mind if Mills was a healthy scratch this afternoon.

This is the first back-to-back set of games the Islanders have played this year. TheDevils have won all three of the second games of their back-to-backs so far this year (wins vs. the Flyers, Capitals and Sabres). 

Even Strength Chances for The $12,000,000 'Top' Line:

It hasn't looked pretty, but I am starting to believe that Parise and Kovalchuk are starting to get on the same page. In the second period yesterday Kovalchukwas much more active while the line was forechecking (insteadof setting up for a one-timer) plus Kovy seemed to be skating a bit better. He still seems to have trouble gaining momentum in his first few strides and is not exerting himself unless necessary.  He looks to be playing at about 3/4 speed right now and I am curious to see how he rebounds for his first back to back since his return from his groin injury.

If you recall, Kovalchuk was injured in the game in Philadelphia. The Kovalchuk/Henrique/Parise line was buzzing that night and Ithought we were about to see both players break out. I was getting that sense again yesterday and I think they are due for a big game. A few passes that just missed during the game yesterday will eventually start to connect, shots will start to hit their mark and perhaps Kovy/Parise could end up playing on the same line permanently. 

Special Teams Play:

With the power play unit starting to find arhythm with the return of Kovalchuk the Islanders better make sure they don't find themselves in the penalty box too often. The Devils have crept up to 25thin power play efficiency!  (yes, that was sarcasm) On a serious note, the power play has been better since Kovy's return and seems to be getting some desperately needed lucky bounces. 

The penalty killing unit for the Devils have been fantastic. The penalty kill unit has been 94% effective this year and perfect at home.  The best way for the Devils to keep their penalty killing unit at the top of the league? Stop taking undisciplined penalties! So Cam Janssen, Andy/Brad Mills, etc....play smarter. The Devils have traditionally been one of the more disciplined teams in the league the past few years, so I am not used to all these dumb penalties. The Devils have been down a man 84 times this season which puts them in the middle of the pack in the NHL for the number of times shorthanded.  

The Devils will face a power play unit ranked 21st in the league. Surprisingly, the normally undisciplined Islanders have only been shorthanded 72 times this season.  Watching a few Islanders games this year you can see that they are playing a bit smarter then in the past and are not taking the dumb penalties they have in past years. Unfortunately that isn't reflected in the standings. 

A Larsson Bounceback?

I didn't think Larsson's first season would be smooth. This season will be a growing process for him and I am sure there will be more games like yesterday. He's a 19 year old rookie defenseman, adjusting to the North American rinks and style of play while playing at the highest level of competition in the world and logging a lot of minutes. He will learn from yesterday and hopefully not make the same mistakes again. Would giving him a night off help? Perhaps it would, but for now I'd rather he gets another shot at the Islanders to redeem himself for last night's miscues. 

Larsson is currently tied for 2nd in the league for scoring by a rookie defenseman and what is more impressive to me, is 2ndin shots with26.  He is currently on pace for a little over 100 shots, which in recent years is pretty high for a Devils defenseman.  The Devils haven't had a defenseman take over 108 shots (Johnny Oduya in 2007-08) on net since 2006-2007 when Brian Rafalski has148. 

Those are some of items that I think can impact the game today. Now it is your turn. Do you think the Devils will have the advantage since they have played 3 sets of back to back games this season?  Do you think the Islanders will have the advantage since they haven't played any back to backs this season?  Will Larsson bounce back?  Sound off below!
 

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