The New York Islanders' mid-March sabbatical is over, and the team returns to a more regularly paced schedule beginning tonight in Newark. Awaiting them are the New Jersey Devils, a team playing out the string before the Isles face a series of strong playoff hopeful teams next week.
After four losses followed the injury to Nick Leddy, they welcome back the sorely missed top defenseman into the lineup tonight.
It's been a while since these teams saw each other -- early January, with John Tavares saving the day in Yes! Yes! overtime. Six of these teams' last eight meetings have been decided by a goal (or less, really, counting shotouts), so it's rarely a walk in the park for the Isles even if the Devils are 17 points behind.
Mikhail Grabovski and Lubomir Visnovsky remain out with injuries, but Leddy is joined by Jaroslav Halak in restoring some health and normalcy to the Isles lineup.
"Some" normalcy, that is.
With Leddy back, Calvin de Haan -- another key defenseman by any measure -- is the latest to take a seat in what one can only hope is a conservative rotation before regular playoff use.
de Haan: "Do I want to [sit out]? Of course not. I feel like I can help the team win, but like I said, it’s not my decision." #Isles— Brett Cyrgalis (@BrettCyrgalis) March 21, 2015
De Haan was with Johnny Boychuk for much of Leddy's absence, but tonight the Boychuk-Leddy pairing will be reunited. De Haan's absence means Matt Donovan plays again, a nice run of games now for the Oklhaoman who was kept in press box storage for nearly three months straight.
And of course Michael Grabner, who has given the Devils fits in the past, is again a scratch as the Isles fancy the more "gritty" kind of work by Tyler Kennedy and the fourth liners.
The Devils are dealing with a couple of late-decision injury situations. They recalled Reid Boucher and Stefan Matteau on emergency conditions, as Mike Cammalleri missed last night's game with illness and Patrik Elias might return from his stint dealing with back spasms.
We do know that Cory Schneider will be in net for them after Keith Kinkaid won in Buffalo last night, so that's scary enough as Schneider has been almost the lone bright spot to the Devils season.
Neu Look for Neuvirth
Hopefully it doesn't see any action tonight, but Michal Neuvirth now has a very Lighthouse-friendly new mask:
Leave your First Islanders Goal picks for tonight here. de Hon't choose de Haan.