The New York Islanders are coming off a 12-day break to take on the New Jersey Devils tonight at UBS Arena. The Devils are just ahead of the Islanders in the Metropolitan Division with a 14-17-5 record, but the Islanders have eight games in hand.
Devils Games Also Postponed
The Devils were supposed to play the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday, but the game was postponed due to COVID protocols. If this game were also postponed, it would’ve been another setback for the Islanders, who are trying to keep their momentum from the last two wins.
“We’re preparing for Thursday,” said head coach Barry Trotz. “I think the league has a pretty good handle on it, so they’ll make a call, and we’ll know and we’ll go from there.”
Trotz seems confident in the league’s ability to make the right call, but he and many others want to go ahead and drop the puck on Thursday night at UBS arena. “Ideally, we need to play. We have practiced enough. I think the guys are ready to go. They want to play, and they are getting a little tired of practicing, and we need to get some games in,” Trotz said.
The Islanders have made it to the third round of the playoffs in the last two seasons, and they need to make a push in the games ahead, or they will miss the postseason entirely. Their biggest struggle is COVID protocol and whether they are allowed to play or have their full roster available. Luckily, Mathew Barzal recently returned to the lineup, and Brock Nelson and Kyle Palmieri returned to practice — three big names for the Islanders.
How the Islanders prepare to face the Devils will be a testament to their development over the past few days. At least New Jersey has also had a few days off, so both teams might feel a little rust.
The Islanders are ready for this matchup. Josh Bailey noted that they are well prepared and want to focus on having a quick start. If they can get on the board first and come out of the first period with a lead, that should help them build momentum for the rest of the game. They pulled off two home wins before the break — a 4-1 over the Buffalo Sabres on Dec. 30 and a 3-2 overtime win against the Edmonton Oilers on Jan. 1 — so there is pressure for them to build a winning streak.
Islanders Without Barry Trotz Again
In this never-ending pandemic, another Islander was added to COVID protocols. This time, it was Trotz, who recently returned after time away due to personal reasons. The team managed a win without him on Dec. 1, so there should be little concern that associate coach Lane Lambert will take the helm again. Lambert has been with the Islanders organization as long as Trotz and knows how to lead his team. It’s a testament to the coaching structure and how well the team is put together that they can win without their head coach despite losing players to injury or protocol.
“Yeah, I mean we weren’t too concerned about that going into last game. We were just focused on what we had to do,” said Josh Bailey. “We have been dealt some different hands throughout the course of this season, and that was another one, and we found a way to get a win that night.”
Despite the team’s confidence without their head coach, at least Brock Nelson has returned to the lineup to offer some offensive support.
Players To Watch
New Jersey Devils – Jack Hughes
The Devils have a couple of great players for the Islanders to keep an eye on. Jesper Bratt leads the team in scoring with 10 goals in 34 games. However, Jack Hughes, who missed time due to injury, is tied for second on the team with nine goals in 19 games. He is looking to improve on an impressive sophomore season and show why he was the first-overall pick in 2019.
Hughes is no stranger to big goals. He scored the game-winner in overtime against the Chicago Blackhawks on Oct. 15 with an amazing and patient shot. Expect Hughes to try and pull off something similar, and it’ll be a testament to the Islanders’ defense if they can get in front and stop him.
In their most recent matchup, Hughes scored his first point against the Islanders, a 4-2 Islanders win on Dec. 11.
New York Islanders – Mathew Barzal
Mathew Barzal is a player who has managed to grab a couple of points against the Devils this season. In their first matchup back in October, he got the assist on Kieffer Bellow’s goal early in the first. Then in their most recent game back in Dec., Barzal came out with two assists as well. Both of those were pivotal, as they managed to tie the game both times for the Islanders.
Most recently, Barzal has found his way onto the score sheets in consecutive games as he came off of COVID protocol. Against the Buffalo Sabres on Dec. 30, he got three points on a goal and two assists. Then in the follow-up game against the Edmonton Oilers, he earned himself another point with an assist on Noah Dobson’s OT game-winner.
This goes to show that Barzal comes out big for the Islanders, and I believe in Thursday’s matchup, he can yet again secure himself another couple of points. Especially because he missed time out due to COVID, there’s no question he is hungry to make up for lost time and bounce back into his dominant position as a key player for the Islanders.
Expect tonight’s matchup to be a good game as the Islanders finally return to action against a division rival.
I started writing for my college hockey team at UMass Amherst three years back and have since started my own hockey blog covering a variety of teams from NHL to college and World Juniors. This blog got ranked #44 out 70 best hockey blogs on the internet by Feedspot.com. Since then I also got the opportunity to cover the New York Islanders with IslesFix (previously called IslesBlog) and have now began writing for The Hockey Writers also covering the New York Islanders.