NOTE: With the back-to-back afternoon games this weekend, WebBard's weekly Bridgeport/Prospect roundup is pushed back to Monday.
Forget the 20 wins in 29 games and the current 19-2-2 run since Jacques Lemaire returned to the bench, the biggest lasting benefit from the Lemaire Resurrection: Part III will be if he helps Ilya Kovalchuk finally turn into a complete hockey player. Last spring, Kovalchuk was one of the vocal Devils sorry to see Lemaire go during that odd mutual parting in which no one was "fired," honest. After Lemaire was retrieved from storage this winter, Kovalchuk again sought his guidance in becoming more than just a speedy guy with a great shot who fumbles for a map of his own zone.
Devils (29-31-4, 12th/E) @ Islanders (25-32-9, 14th)
Nassau [gloriously unsponsored] Veterans Mem. Coliseum
3 p.m. | MSG+, +2 (twice the plus!) | audio - WRHU 88.7
Realistic but enjoying the run anyway: In Lou We Trust
The goals are going in lately for Kovy -- his OT winner over the Antarctic Turtles Friday was his 23rd, and 13th in his last 22 games -- but by several accounts the sniper is playing more informed three-zone hockey now, too. That crazy contract is signed, sealed, delivered, so nothing can change its later years now (except the next CBA?). But if you're going long on an offensive dynamo, 'tis better that he plays more like Marian Hossa and less like Rob Brown. Even if Lemaire retires again this summer, that addition to his legacy would make it well worth the detour on his way to the 4 p.m. buffet.
When I say the Devils don't have a chance to make the playoffs, it's not a knock against their roster, which was never quite as bad as it looked during John MacLean's aborted tenure. It's just a recognition of the monumental task -- and multiple failings of others -- it would take to get there. Even after all this, they're only three points above the Islanders -- an Isles regulation win would close that gap to one -- and nine points out of 8th. In Lou We Trust, an SBN Devils blog that tends to take a realistic, justified-text look at their team, has been pretty cognizant of these awful odds the whole way.
Of course, if anyone wants to play spoiler -- or rather nail-in-the-coffiner -- for the Devils' hopes, it's the Islanders, who have three more meetings with New Jersey including today's. We've all enjoyed the Islanders' own revival under Jack Capuano, who still has the interim tag. What better further test for Cappy than to match up with the great Lemaire in games that theoretically "matter" for both sides?
On the Topic of Lemaire: An interesting look at the difference between Lemaire and Caps coach Bruce Boudreau, from ex-Cap David Steckel.
Slow Start Syndrome Cured? Keith brought this up yesterday, via Eric Hornick: The Isles have now outscored their opponents 18-4 in the first two periods over the last eight games (9-1 in the first period and 9-3 in the second period).
Don't Look Now But: With the production in yesterday's stress-free 5-2 win over the Blues, rookie Travis Hamonic now has 20 points in 46 games and Andrew MacDonald has 25 points in 51 games. Interpreting anything about blueline boxscore numbers is dicey -- and TOI and powerplay dependent -- but it's no surprise to see two of the team's better fundamental distributors on the blueline collecting points. Better puck decisions, feeding better forwards, leads to nice things.
Here is the FanShot to enter your FIG (First Islanders Goal) pick for today's game.
This is your preview and in-game thread. Let's have us a smashing afternoon, shall we?