As the 2010-11 season continues to wind down for the New York Islanders and their fans, things just keep getting more and more interesting.
Today's game at Nassau Coliseum will be the team's second straight home matinee, and if their performance against the Devils shows any resemblance of the way they beat St. Louis yesterday, the fans are really in for a treat.
As I was unable to preview or recap yesterday's game due to outside circumstances, let me just fill you in on what took place in Uniondale on Saturday.
John Tavares, who has become something of a human highlight reel over the second half of this season, deked through the entire St. Louis defense, before going to the backhand and wiring the puck into the top right corner of the net for his 24th goal of the season. He also added an assist, and in doing so, he surpassed the 54 points he amassed during his rookie campaign. Tavares now has 55 points, and there's still some more hockey left to play before the Isles' season comes to an end.
So much for the sophomore slump.
Michael Grabner and P.A. Parenteau also scored for New York, and surprisingly, Andrew MacDonald netted two goals in the game, further cementing his status as the team's best blueliner.
The Islanders may be making some waves, but the New Jersey Devils are about as hot as it gets these days.
Since Jacques Lemaire took over behind the bench, the Devils have experienced a complete turnaround, having gone 19-2-2 during the second half of the season.
A big reason for their resurgence has been Ilya Kovalchuk's return to all-star form. The star winger has scored 13 goals in that 23-game span.
The Islanders should benefit from the return of Milan Jurcina, who is back in the lineup after nursing an injury. Mark Katic has been sent back to Bridgeport (AHL), as per Newsday's Katie Strang.
New Jersey's goaltending tandem of Johan Hedberg and Martin Brodeur has been extremely effective. Goals will not come easy for the Islanders this afternoon, so the offense must be constantly pressing. If you can get on the scoreboard early and often, you can beat the New Jersey Devils, but if you're not coming through in the offensive zone, the Devils will make the most of their own scoring chances, likely coming away with the victory.
Players to Watch
Moulson has been excellent of late, and he's on pace for yet another 30-goal season. Look for him to be a big part of an Isles win, should they get one today.
He's the best two-way player on the team, as well as the centerpiece of what I consider to be the most well-balanced line in the NHL, featuring Frans, Kyle Okposo and Michael Grabner. Nielsen's ability to play on both ends of the ice perfectly compliments Okposo's strength and Grabner's speed. When that line is buzzing, Nielsen's usually the main reason why. He needs to have a strong game against New Jersey if the Isles are to win this one.
Al needs to be sharp in this one, especially against a team that is beyond red-hot right now. If New York can get strong play from their goaltender, the rest of the team will have far more confidence throughout the game, which is exactly what these young Isles need in a contest like this.