Newark, N.J.– The New York Islanders arrive at the Purdential Center after coming off their best win (road or otherwise) of the season, beating the Pittsburgh Penguins handsomely 4-1 before a national audience.
The New Jersey Devils, on the other hand, endured a tough OT shootout loss to the pesky Boston Bruins, with impressive goaltending by backup Johan Hedberg (GAA 0.92 for the evening) and the enlightened play of Ilya Kovalchuk.
The Atlantic Division is now the most hotly contended of all divisions in the East, and with a slew of games set against Atlantic rivals, no team can afford a losing streak at present.
The Islanders stand to either tie or take a one point lead atop the division, depending on tonight’s results. In either case, the Isles have definitely turned some heads and are in teams’ cross-hairs, it’s safe to assume, after the dismantling of Crosby and Co.
Moreover, the Islanders have the 3rd best PK unit in hockey, while being 4th in both scoring and on the Power Play. Not too shabby from a ragtag team that most people claim are irrelevant or in trouble or pathetic.
Of the two clubs playing this evening, however, only the Devils may lay claim to consistency, as the Isles have lost leads, shown erractic, slopshod defense, and lacking vigor on the forecheck, at times.
But in all honesty, the Isles victory in Pittsburgh is one upon which they may hang their hats, so to speak. An example of signature hockey, and a performance that should very well invigorate and inspire this young team tonight.
But they face an incredibly stingy Devils team, who lead the league in GA. And their backup, Hedberg, is more than game ready, as he stopped 28 shots against the Bruins the other night, doing so in a manner much like his mentor/predecessor.
Expect plenty of energy from both teams, but it’s the Isles that must set the tone early if they expect a W tonight–rattle the goalie early, having the Devils chase them instead of the opposite.
Patrick Elias leads the Devils with 7 points (2 G 5 A), and David Clarkson has 4 goals during this last week and a half of hockey. Dangerous indeed.
The Islanders’s John Tavares leads the Isles with 8 points (2 G 6 A), while Michael Grabner and Matt Moulson both have 4 goals. Tavares, Grabner, Moulson, and Travis Hamonic are simply doing everything humanly possible to win.
These two teams opened the season at the Coliseum, and for the most part, Evgeni Nabokov prevented a blowout, as the Islanders looked rusty and sluggish in their defeat.
Do not expect this evening to be a repeat of that dismal output from this young and emerging Isles team.
Follow Rich Diaz @eyesonisles
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