Rival Devils, Isles square off for just second time this season
It is the second meeting this season between the teams, who are separated by 16 miles, a pair of rivers and only two points in the standings. Back on Nov. 3, the Islanders (10-8-2) beat the Devils (9-9-2) 3-0 behind Thomas Greiss‘ 35-save shutout.
Since then, the Islanders stumbled, winning just two of seven games. They come off Wednesday’s 5-0 road loss at Madison Square Garden to the New York Rangers, allowing 11 goals in consecutive defeats and 16 goals in the last three contests.
“The last two games have been awful,” Islanders captain Anders Lee told Newsday.
One of the NHL’s biggest surprises the first quarter of the season, the Islanders are showing some cracks in their overall game, and coach Barry Trotz held a detailed practice on Thanksgiving to prepare his listing club for the important division clash against the Devils.
Trotz reunited both of his top two lines on Thursday after some recent experimentation. Mathew Barzal centered Josh Bailey and Anthony Beauvillier, while Brock Nelson was back between Jordan Eberle and Lee.
In addition, rugged bottom-six wingers Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin both practiced. Clutterbuck missed the game against the Rangers due to an illness and Martin is on injured reserve, having missed the previous eight games.
“Some guys who have played well, have slipped a little bit,” Trotz told reporters. “We’ve got to get back on the rails here.”
The Islanders could be without defenseman Ryan Pulock, who injured his arm against the Rangers and did not practice Thursday.
Since losing to the Islanders earlier in the month the streaky Devils are 4-4-1. New Jersey beat the Montreal Canadiens 5-2 on Wednesday night following two consecutive defeats and is now an impressive 7-1-2 on home ice.
“Any win is good right now, but it’s great to get those home wins, and as long as we get those home wins, we put ourselves in a good spot,” Devils goaltender Keith Kinkaid told reporters.
Kinkaid made 24 saves in Wednesday’s victory, while Nico Hischier scored in his return following a four-game injury absence. Taylor Hall had a goal and an assist, and a rejuvenated Pavel Zacha scored twice, giving him four goals in his last three games.
“I’m happy they’re going in for me right now,” said Zacha. “Before, I had a lot of chances, but they weren’t going in. They’re finally going in for me now.”
The Devils, who seek to win consecutive games for only the second time since winning their first four games of the season, are 4-3-0 within the Metropolitan Division. They won three straight division games before falling to the Carolina Hurricanes 2-1 on Sunday.
One of the team’s strengths through the first quarter of the season is the penalty kill. New Jersey did not surrender a power play goal in its last four games and surrendered only one in its last 19 times short-handed, covering seven games. The Devils are fourth in the league with a penalty kill success rate of 84.5 percent.
“Special teams are so important in this league, and our penalty kill can be a game-changer for us,” said Devils forward Blake Coleman.
The Devils won both games against the Islanders played at Prudential Center a year ago and have four wins in their six games on home ice against New York covering the last three seasons.