Gameday: Islanders at Devils (1/31/13)

Islanders-Devils

David Clarkson looks to continue his hot start as the Devils try to bounce back from two straight losses.

Who: New York Islanders at New Jersey Devils
When: 7:00 p.m. ET; Pregame show at 6:30 p.m. ET
Where: Prudential Center, Newark, NJ
Media: TV – MSG+ (Channel listings); RadioWFAN (660AM or 101.9FM)
Twitter: @cgriffin415 | @SNYDevils

Stats & Notes (via Devils PR)

  • With a win tonight New Jersey would have its most points through the season’s first six games since 2008-09 (5-1-0=10).
  • The Devils also hope to extend a four-game winning streak over the Islanders (last loss, 1-0 at New York, Mar. 4, 2012).
  • Mark Fayne had been the Devils’ ironman, having appeared in 119 consecutive regular-season games overall. Bryce Salvador and Dainius Zubrus  will assume the title, each having played in 87 straight coming into tonight.
  • Martin Brodeur’s 1.69 GAA is third in the league (tie, Jaroslav Halak, St. Louis) while his .932 save-percentage is fourth (tie, Tuukka Rask, Boston).
  • David Clarkson has points in a career-high (tie) five straight games (4g-3a-7pts). Clarkson’s three power play goals are tied for third in the NHL.
  • Patrik Elias, who is tied with Clarkson for the team scoring lead with 2g-5a-7pts, has points in three straight (2g-4a).
  • The Devils have scored on the power play in four consecutive games and are 4/24 (16.7%) on the year.
  • New Jersey’s penalty-killing unit is 23/26 (88.5%) and ranked fourth in the league overall. The Islanders are third, having killed 19/20 (95.0%) power plays they’ve faced.

Expected Lineups

Forwards                                                            Defense                                                  Goalie
Josefson-Zajac-Kovalchuk                                Salvador-Zidlicky                                           Brodeur
Zubrus-Elias-Clarkson                                     Tallinder-Volchenkov
Carter-Gionta-Bernier                                      Greene-Larsson
Barch-Henrique-Anderson

Inactives: Harrold, Matteau
Scratched: Fayne (upper body)

Young grasshoppers: We talked about the new pieces in the lineup earlier today, but it’ll be even more important given the Devils’ recent penchant for slow starts. While nervous energy is understandable and expected, the last thing the Devils need is a sloppy mistake by Larsson or Henrique that puts them in an early hole. That said, I’d expect the first period to look worse than it did Tuesday against Boston. Integrating one piece into the lineup is tough enough, but throwing two new prominent faces out there, both of which have had long layoffs, and you should expect some bumps and bruises. It’ll be up to Pete DeBoer to limit their minutes while they get their feet under them and get back into the groove of playing NHL-level hockey. As DeBoer pointed out earlier today, teams are starting to get settled and the hockey is becoming tougher with every passing game. It might be up to Marty (again) to keep things even for a while tonight while the Devils find the right balance.

Little things: When I spoke to Clarkson earlier, I think he said the phrase “little things” as much as Henrique dropped the word “excited.” It was an acknowledgement that the Devils aren’t playing perfectly, but they are playing pretty well. Even though Jersey lost the last two, there were definite positives in both games. The Devils’ late comeback against Montreal was encouraging given the sudden burst of scoring and they played a playoff-level hockey game against one of the best teams in the league in Boston. This isn’t a team that has to make drastic changes or alterations going forward — more tweaks and adjustments, actually. Yes, they could use some more scoring up front, particularly on the wings, but they also need to do a better job of burying the chances they’re getting, which Clarkson made a point of stating.

FLLW: This stands for first line left wing. Since we talk about it so much, I figured it needed its own abbreviation — similar to YOLO and YMCMB, but without the played-out catchphrase or ridiculous haircuts. How long will Josefson stick in this spot? Will he have a longer leash than Mattias Tedenby and Stefan Matteau had in the first five games? Also playing into this is Henrique’s return. No one expects Henrique to play the entire game on the fourth line and that means someone in the top six will be bumped. Henrique could slide in between Elias and Clarkson for a shift or too, but that means Zubrus needs to play somewhere and DeBoer likes his game too much to dump him to the last line. I expect Josefon to get around 15 minutes sharing time between the first, third and fourth lines, but he could change that depending on what he brings in the first period — which has proven to be DeBoer’s limit for these first line experiments.

JT and the Isles: DeBoer is a “big fan” of John Tavares. That’s the way he responded when asked about the Islanders’ budding stat after Thursday’s morning skate. Can you blame him, though? Tavares is emerging into an elite offensive player, if he isn’t already after last year’s breakout campaign. The Devils were able to shut him down in the two teams’ first meeting of the season, but I suspect it’ll be a different story tonight at The Rock. Since being held off the score sheet in the season opener, Tavares has eight points in five games, including three multi-point efforts. The Isles are 3-1-1 in that stretch and have scored three or more goals in four of the five games. Look for DeBoer to mix and match the Devils’ top three lines against the Isles’ top unit while trying to create mismatches.

First-place battle: Believe it or not, tonight’s game is a battle for first place in the Atlantic Division. Crazy, right? Both the Isles and Devils were expected to compete for a playoff spot, but they’ve been more than pleasant surprises through the first two weeks of this season while the prohibitive favorites (Rangers, Penguins and Flyers) have each stumbled a bit thus far. As DeBoer keeps saying, in this type of season, it’s crucial to bank as many points as possible, particularly in the Atlantic. Look for a lot of energy and a very competitive and physical game right off the bat.