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New York Islanders vs. New Jersey Devils Preview: Life without John Tavares

Welcome back.

It's been a while.
It's been a while.
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

After a four-day holiday break, the New York Islanders resume their season at home against their Metropolitan rival New Jersey Devils tonight. The big story is that they'll do it without John Tavares, who will miss tonight's game (lower body injury) for the first time in three seasons and 245 games.

That is ... well, it's not good, but it does provide a necessary different look at this roster, with Brock Nelson filling Tavares' top-line slot between Kyle Okposo and Thomas Vanek, and potentially offering more opportunity for Frans Nielsen or Ryan Strome's lines to contribute.

(Speaking of Strome, remember the fan outcry that his recall and Peter Regin's scratching would fix things? Hockey is hard.)

Njd-tailslim_medium Nyi-landthin_medium
Devils (15-16-8, 6th/Metro) @ Islanders (11-20-7, 8th/Metro)
7 p.m. | MSG+ | WRHU/WRCN
Nassau [gloriously unsponsored] Veterans Mem. Coliseum
Over there: In Lou We Trust

Strome has been fine in five games, with one assist and between 13-14 minutes per game. "Careful" aptly describes his game thus far, as he has erred on the conservative side -- possibly in recognition that it was the defensive part of his game that the team wanted him to cultivate as he waited for his shot the past two seasons.

Meanwhile, the non-Tavares ready-made narrative for tonight is how the Isles will shake their rust, while the Devils theoretically shook theirs off in a home shootout loss to Columbus on Friday night.

Here is Patrik Elias after the Devils' poor showing last night, via the Post:

"Having three days off, that had an effect on us," said veteran forward Patrik Elias, who was referring to the mandatory three-day Christmas break that had just ended. "We didn’t skate well, we didn’t put the puck in places where we could get our forecheck going. We didn’t make good passes, neutral zone, everywhere. We were late on everything.

Of course, coach Peter DeBoer pointed out the obvious: Columbus had the same break. Everyone did, as the three days off (Christmas Eve, Christmas and Boxers Day) are humanely mandated in the CBA. (Don't tell Larry Brooks that NHLPA members both requested this break and immediately cited it as a reason for delivering a poor product.)

Anyway, the Devils should have their sea legs back, but then the Isles had the benefit of practicing yesterday rather than stepping right back into a game. Either way, it's still hockey.

Lineup Notes

The official site has Regin playing wing in Nelson's spot on the third line, with Matt Carkner back in for Aaron Ness. Evgeni Nabokov starts his sixth straight.

The Devils expect Bryce Salvador to play for the first time since Oct. 22. Ryane "[sic]" Clowe is also back, having returned last night. Cory Schneider is in goal.

This is the teams' first meeting since opening night, back when Michael Grabner was on a 164-goal pace...

FIG Picks

Leave your First Islanders Goal picks here. Updated Christmas break FIG leaderboard:

26 - martylnd
17 - zack779
16 - DoctorOsty
14 - skeeterman
13 - jjbiii
12 - Charlotte Isles
11 - Dan VA
11 - Torgo
10 - Isle in Dixie
10 - mike in mi