They say a deal with the Devil brings consequences you'll later regret. I'm not sure what they say about inviting the Devils into your home only to treat them like a redheaded stepchild. But that's what the Islanders have done on New Jersey's last three visits to the Coliseum: 4-0 earlier this week, to go with the 7-3 and 4-0 thumpings that finished out last year's 30th-place season.
It's been an odd series between these two teams in the Gordon Era. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I can't recall a single game that "felt" close. It seems either the Islanders are dialed in playing their way, or the Devils are dialed in playing their way. For the Devils that often means traditional Devils-style, disciplined, air-tight smothering that makes a 2-1 or 4-2 game feel like you never had a chance. No room to move, no chance to solve Martin Brodeur.
Obviously, tonight I'm hoping for the former in front of a sellout crowd. But one of these days, it would be fun to see both of these teams butt heads when each is fully on their game.
As expected, Rick DiPietro gets the start tonight. Brodeur played last night in the Devils' 3-1 loss to Montreal -- I watched some of it, the Devils didn't look that bad. (FYI, to soothe your insulted soul, the Canadiens fanbase did indeed send a throng of thousands to Newark for the game. So it's not just us, even if it feels like we get it the worst.) It's a back-to-back and Brodeur has had bad recent luck at the Coliseum, but he has also started 28 straight. Still, last night Jacques Lemaire said Yann Danis was a possibility. I'm not up on my Lemaire-speak, so I don't know if that's a strong hint or just a "grass growing is a possibility."
Speaking of DiPietro, Katie Strang got some interesting quotes from Gordon about his first three games, which ironically currently has him with a sub-2.00 GAA [that'll be $5 please]:
I think ... he has come back at a time where we haven't exposed him to some of the situations that Rolie had to face, a 60-shot night or a game where we gave up a lot of chances. We haven't given up a lot of chances, we haven't been in the box a lot. I think it's been a good situation for Ricky to come back.
I don't think that can be emphasized enough: The Isles have played well, and DiPietro did everything he needed to in his last two starts. But he hasn't been really tested yet; he hasn't had to pull a Rolie. In addition to us watching his health with celebrity-like fanaticism, we need to observe how he handles a barrage. Early returns are quite positive, but the jury is still out on this comeback.
A Playoff State of Mind
The Islanders could play .750 hockey the rest of the way, and I'm still not sure I'd fully grasp what's happening as reality. But right now, with the far more modest accomplishment of 8th place 51 games in, I'm still sort of needing to pinch myself. With that in mind, it's a good thing I'm not a player. Here's Strang again [same link as before] with part of her conversation with captain Doug Weight:
"[Our work ethic] is a source of great pride for our club. It's almost become a rallying cry for us before the game. ...
It almost beats it into your head that this is what we need to do to have success. ... It's not enough to be in 8th place with 25 games left, we've got to strive for more. Good teams don't take games off."
I approve of this message. You know what else is nice? With six wins in a row at home and a 14-8-2 home record overall, a feeling of dominance at home is a nice tool to have if you're planning on visiting the playoffs.
Go, boys. Go as far as you can go. See what we have in the end (whether by the trade deadline or by the end of the season). Then Garth Snow can resume putting the pieces of this thing together, and make next year even better.
Same as before. Did you know Brendan Witt has been skating for five days? Interesting decisions around the bend. Regardless, this is the last game of Andy Sutton's suspension, so Dustin Kohn will have to keep it simple and not try to do too much in what will likely be his last NHL game for a while. Gordon was reserved but complimentary about Kohn's first game.
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Prediction: Islanders' home success continues, but this time DiPietro allows a pair.
Sorry for the late preview today. Have some family in town who make for very late nights and very groggy mornings. The traditional game thread will be up by game time for in-game comments. Unfortunately I'll have to sit this one out.