New Jersey Devils at New York Islanders - 7:00 pm
Nassau Coliseum - Uniondale, N.Y.
TV: MSG +2 Radio: WFAN 101.9 fm, 660 am
Another day, another back-to-back as the New Jersey Devils once again feel the sting of the Olympic schedule. Tonight the red and black take their game out to the Island to try and rebound from last night's gut-wrenching, shootout loss to Columbus. Like the Blue Jackets, the Isles are a team that New Jersey has recently had trouble figuring out. Though the Devs have only faced NYI once this year, a 4-3 shootout loss at the Rock in the home opener, the Islanders took last year's series 3-2, even stealing two of those victories in Newark. Though they're opponents have been struggling lately, New Jersey can't take the Islanders lightly, or those pesky New Yorkers in the blue and orange sweaters could happily rack-up a fourth straight against the boys from Brick City.
Some thoughts on tonight's game:
1. Bryce Salvador returns. For more than two months and 30 games, the Devils have been without Bryce Salvador, their Captain and the strong foundation of their defense. Tonight, all of that changes as #24 comes back, strong and healthy. Not yet sure what this will mean in terms of pairings. Historically, Sal has been at his best when paired with faster, offensive defensemen like Andy Greene and Marek Zidlicky, but he also has played quite a bit with Mark Fayne and I know that both Scott Stevens and Pete DeBoer would breathe a little easier if Salvador was out there to support one of their two rookie D-men. There are strong cases to be made for any of several possibilities, but you can be sure that whomever Bryce is paired with, that line will see a strong and smart defensive performance, albeit with a cautious approach to their ice-time.
2. One captain comes back, while another leaves. For the first time in 245 games, the Islanders will have to face the prospect of winning without their superstar center, John Tavares. The Isles' Captain will be out of the lineup for tonight's game, and possibly for a while with an unspecified lower-body injury. This could just be a precautionary move by the team to protect their centerpiece, but with Tavares' reputation as an ironman, the fans could be forgiven for holding their breath until they know a little more. John Tavares is, for my money, one of the best players in the world right now, and was my pick for MVP last year. I do hope he comes back soon, as the game is always more fun when you get to watch a player of his caliber. For tonight, however, the Devils have to focus on taking advantage this opportunity. The Islanders are a team that has trouble producing, and will likely have even more trouble without their team leader in assists, not to mention every other offensive category. If the Devils can pounce on them and get an early lead, I don't see the Isles finding a way to fight back.
3. Time for some new heroes. The first meeting of the season between these two teams saw 2 goals from Damien Brunner on the New Jersey side, and a clutch one-on-one goal over Martin Brodeur in the sixth round of the shootout by Matt Moulsen to seal the victory for NYI. But tonight, things are going to look a little bit different. Brunner's still sidelined, Corey Schneider is getting the start since Marty played last night, and Moulsen is now wearing Buffalo blue, after an early-season trade sent John Tavares' favorite wingman up north in exchange for Thomas Vanek. Who will be the hero tonight? Will it be a veteran like Patrik Elias or Jaromir Jagr or a returning player like Ryan Clowe or Bryce Salvador that leads to a win for New Jersey, or will a Frans Nielsen or Evgeni Nabokov step-up for the Islanders in the absence of their Captain to continue their winning streak against the Devs?
Prediction - Devils 4 - Islanders 2
Even without Tavares, the Islanders are a talented team. Evgeni Nabokov is still a good netminder, and players like Kyle Okposo, Nielsen, and Vanek can hurt a team on any night. However, they have no experience playing without their top-gun in John Tavares, and will probably look a little lost having no time to get used to the situation. Even after a typical slow start from New Jersey, the Devils will be able to wear down the New York with constant pressure and break through for several goals, taking this game from Isles, on the Island.
Enjoy the game, everyone.