The New Jersey Devils return to Long Island to face the Islanders on Thursday night. For the first time since late 2014, the Devils will suit up at Nassau Coliseum. The Islanders moved out of Nassau Coliseum for Barclay's Center in Brooklyn after the 2014-15 NHL season, but are hosting several NHL teams this season at the refurbished Coliseum.
"It's fun to come back here," Travis Zajac said. "It's a different arena from the ones nowadays where they're big, bright and there's a lot going on. This one you just come here and it's a hockey rink. It's nice to play here again."
"It feels intimate," Zajac added. "To me, it kind of feels like a college rink, fans are on top of you, the ice almost seems smaller. Hopefully it's a good crowd tonight and a good atmosphere."
Zajac, Andy Greene, Damon Severson and Keith Kinkaid are the only players remaining from the Devils roster that played in that last game on Long Island in 2014.
"Obviously from the outside and the locker room its very different," Greene said. "But from the ice it feels the exact same. It looks a lot nicer, they did a really nice job with it. I'm looking forward to playing here again. They always have really good crowds and energy."
Tonight, the Devils will be backstopped by rookie goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood who will be making the ninth start of his NHL career, exactly one month to the day since his first call-up to the NHL. In that time, Blackwood has recorded five wins including two shut-outs, all while adapting to his new life in the NHL.
"Our staff has tried to do a really good job with him," coach John Hynes said. "Even our strength and conditioning coaches, on understanding after a game about how much recovery stuff he needs to do, particularly as a starting goalie. It is a big adjustment for most people that come into the NHL, whether its coaches, trainers, players, equipment managers - there's just so many games and so little time."
"A lot of it is understanding the schedule," Hynes continued. "That's why your recovery and your lifestyle and how you take care of yourself away from the game and away from the rink has a big impact of how you can perform day-in, day-out in this league."
On defense, Ben Lovejoy will be out with an upper body injury that will keep him out day-to-day, while forward Miles Wood will miss a second consecutive game with an injury of his own. In Lovejoy's place, Steven Santini will draw back into the lineup paired with Mirco Mueller on the third pairing.
When it comes to performance, coach John Hynes wants to see his team return to a mentality of working
"We're built to be a team, we're built to be a team that has five guys all contribute on the ice. We're not a team that can get by with three or four guys, or even two guys sometimes not engaged. So, we need a complete effort. We need to get off to a good start and pay attention to some things in our defensive zone that were lacking, particularly early in the game against Columbus."
The Devils are expected to dress the following lineup: