Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Game: Devils @ Islanders, 7 of 8

The New Jersey Devils will conclude their road trip with back-to-back road games. Tonight is the first half of that back-to-back set, where the Devils visit Nassau Coliseum for the last time this season.

National TV: Versus (HD available)
Local Radio: 660 AM, WFAN
Devils Record Vs. Islanders: 5-1-0
NHL.com Preview

Two things have gone New Jersey's way recently that are of note going into tonight's game. The first and most important is that the Devils snapped their losing streak. They came back from a 2-0 deficit to ultimately defeat the Florida Panthers in a shootout. The game re-established New Jersey's (small) lead in the Atlantic Division and gives the team some desperately needed momentum going into these two upcoming road games. Granted, Pittsburgh's win against Boston on Sunday puts them back into a tie with New Jersey for the Atlantic Division lead, but the Devils have a game in hand (to be used to face Buffalo tomorrow).

The second item that is going the Devils' way is that Patrik Elias will return from injury tonight, according to Rich Chere's notebook section in today's Star Ledger. I really hope that groin does not get injured again, but Elias is confident that he's ready and that is nothing but good news for the Devils. He remains the team's leading scorer (21 G, 44 A), he can change games on his own, and he's the captain of the team so the Devils will get some leadership back on the ice. The team should get an emotional boost from his return, which would help them greatly for tonight's game. Patricia at 2 Man Advantage is pleased by this development, to say the least.

However, in that same notebook section, Chere notes that while Jamie Langenbrunner (ill) and Erik Rasmussen (shoulder) made the trip to Long Island, they are questionable for tonight. Tom Lycan's recent post at Devils Due has an apt headline: Devs looking to get healthy. They could use some healthy players for tonight. Don't let the Devils' incredibly successful record fool you. The Islanders have played the Devils tough all season long, those 3 (nearly 4) shutouts were hard earned as were every one of those 5 wins. A win at Long Island would be huge for the Devils to retake the Atlantic Division lead, and it would be a huge boost in momentum before going into Buffalo in what will likely be an incredibly tough game against the Buffalo Sabres, the top team in the Eastern Conference and the NHL.

Worse yet for the Devils is that the Islanders have played fairly well recently. They are 2-0-2 in their last 4 games, Rick DiPietro has been great against the Devils despite the losing record (2.18 GAA), and trade-deadline acquisition Ryan Smyth has been excellent in Islander orange. Before the trade, Smyth had 31 goals and 53 points - he now has 35 goals and 66 points. From what I understand he's acclimated himself very well on the Islanders and that's no good for whoever plays them.

However, the Devils can't just focus on him. The Islanders have a multitude of offensive producers with 6 20+ goal scorers on their current roster: Smyth, Jason Blake (37 G), Mike Sillinger (25 G), Miroslav Satan (25 G), Viktor Kozlov (22 G), Trent Hunter (20 G). Needless to say, this will be a game where the Devils would miss John Madden greatly, I think. In any case, he's still hurt and the New Jersey Devils defense needs to be on point anyway. This means fewer giveaways from Paul Martin and Johnny Oduya; this means solid penalty kills (if not good discipline to avoid handing the Islanders man advantages); and this means proper coverage around the net by Brad Lukowich (among others), in particular. The Devils should keep an eye on Smyth in particular, he has 4 goals and 3 assists lifetime against the Devils in 9 games.

Martin Brodeur also has to be great. But I think we already know that he's the best and has done superbly. But don't take my clearly biased view for it. Listen to NHL great, Bernie Parent, from Rich Chere's main article in today's Star Ledger:
"You have to be consistent and you don't do it by yourself," he [Parent] said. "You need a good team. But I think Marty is the best goalie in the game."

There is one additional point I need to make about the Devils for them to have success tonight. Score first. The Islanders are in the middle of a fierce fight for the playoffs. Combine that with the fact that most of the games this season have been hard fought, close games and that makes the first goal scored in the game vital. It could even be the only goal scored in the game, considering how well Brodeur has played all year and how well DiPietro has done against New Jersey. The Devils were lucky in a way to comeback from a 2 goal deficit against Florida, you can be sure that Ted Nolan's Islanders will not give up leads so easily (not that the Panthers made it all that easy either). I repeat: Devils, please score first. For your own sake.

The game will be on national TV, so switch it to Versus (and in HD if you can, trust me, it's worth it), and enjoy it. GO DEVILS.

CRUCIAL UPDATE: Rick DiPietro is out indefinitely with post-concussion syndrome. He won't be in net tonight for the Islanders. I hope he recovers fully and quickly, PCS is a terrible condition.

The Devils could see Mike Dunham or the recently called up Wade Dubielewicz in net tonight. Dunham has played poorly for the Islanders this season; but then again the Devils were shutout by the last backup goaltender they faced (Jocelyn Thibault). The game is far from a gimme without DiPietro; so the Devils still need to come out strong against the Islanders and score first in my mind.


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