The teams of the Atlantic Division flat out hate each other, and the New Jersey Devils (9-2-3) and the New York Islanders (5-7-1) are no exception. This will be the fourth time that the teams face off this season, the last match resulting in a 3-0 New Jersey win at Nassau Coliseum on February 3.
Round four will be on the Isles' home turf once again, and New York is coming off a breathtaking comeback victory over the rival New York Rangers. The Devils will be on the road following a home game against the Philadelphia Flyers, but their determination to hold onto the top spot in both the division and Eastern Conference could provide them with plenty of adrenaline against a lesser team.
Throw in that the Eastern Conference is, once again, completely up for grabs, and this is a game that could be a lot closer than initially appears.
Where: Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, NY
When: Saturday, February 16, 7 p.m. EST
TV: MSG, MSG +
Live Stream: NHL Gamecenter
Injury Report via (USA Today)
Dainius Zubrus (wrist, out)
Jesse Joensuu (hernia, out)
Matt Carkner (groin, IR)
Radek Martinek (groin, IR)
Devils X-Factor: Ilya Kovalchuk, RW
The Devils are just 14th in goals per game at 2.7, and they'll need an offensive explosion in order to defeat a young and feisty Islanders squad. This means that winger Ilya Kovalchuk needs to continue his recent hot streak and be a catalyst on offense.
Over New Jersey's first three games against New York, Kovalchuk has registered just one point via an assist in the season opener, on January 19. Seeing as how head coach Pete DeBoer's system is all about being speedy and aggressive on the forecheck, Kovalchuk needs to be much better in this game.
Kovalchuk has fortunately been hot as of late, and has scored three goals and amassed six points over his last five games. Against the young Islanders, he should be able to use his decade of experience well enough to be a force and help carry New Jersey's offensive game.
However, should the fire be out and mental mistakes get the better of him, the Islanders will then be in prime position to pull off a second consecutive upset victory, not to mention tie the season series with the defending Eastern Conference champs.
Islanders X-Factor: John Tavares, C
Despite a shoddy defense that ranks second to last in goals allowed, the New York Islanders' offense has been fairly solid, ranking seventh with three goals per game. Much of their offense is due to center John Tavares, who has been unbelievable during a recent hot streak.
The 22-year-old has scored a goal in four consecutive games, and has a total of eight goals and eight assists for 16 points on the year.
Tavares managed two goals and an assist in his team's 5-4 overtime victory against New Jersey on January 31, and he needs to channel that type of performance again in this game. His recent streak will certainly help, but it is all the more important that New York's best offensive player be effective in this heated divisional game.
Both teams are going to have a lot of emotion entering this game. The Islanders just pulled off a huge win against the Rangers, and the Devils will be entering the second game of a back-to-back while still on the adrenaline rush from their Friday night game against the Philadelphia Flyers.
In this case, however, the Devils are going to win. The team is just too experienced, and Johan Hedberg has been excellent as the team's backup goaltender this season. He got the win the last time these teams met, and he'll be phenomenal again in another start against the Islanders.
His work between the pipes will keep the Devils a step ahead from start to finish, and another strong game from Ilya Kovalchuk will propel New Jersey to a win as John Tavares' streak comes to an end.
By the final buzzer, the Devils will remain at the top of both their division and the Eastern Conference, not to mention be generating some buzz about how far they can go in the postseason.
New Jersey Devils 3, New York Islanders 1
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