UNIONDALE, NY - The Devils have been playing much better hockey as of late and they're on the hunt for their third-straight win. But it won't come easy. The Devils are in Long Island to take on the stout Islanders tonight.
New Jersey has at least a point in six of their last eight outings and a record of 5-2-1 in that span of games. This stretch of success began with Alain Nasreddine's first victory as interim head coach in Arizona on Dec. 14. A major reason for this turnaround has been the consistency in line combinations and the spreading out of offense among them.
"I think there's an identity on each line," said Nasreddine. "As you can see, if you look at time on ice, we try to use all four lines for the most part. So there's a good flow there and the guys are fresh as they go on, but everyone's been contributing."
The Islanders have a point in seven of their last 10 games and have also won two in a row heading into tonight.
NO HUGHES, ZACHA UP, ROONEY IN
Unfortunately for the Devils, an upper-body injury to their highly talented rookie will throw a wrench in those plans to keep the lines consistent. Jack Hughes will not play tonight and he's officially day-to-day, per Nasreddine.
Pavel Zacha has been bumped up to play between Miles Wood and Wayne Simmonds. They aren't looking for Zacha to change anything from what he's been doing the last few games.
"It's touching the puck first and on the forecheck, being hard on it," said Nasreddine. "Using his quickness, his skills, and heaviness.
"When he decides to play down low and below the hashmark and hold onto pucks and be hard on them, he's tough to defend."
Zacha has three goals and 13 assists in 35 games this season.
With Hughes out, Kevin Rooney will step into the lineup for the first time since Dec. 27.
"It's an opportunity for someone to come in and make a difference," said Nasreddine. "And that will be Rooney tonight. He hasn't played in a couple of games now. So he'll be in on a line with Hayden and Boqvist. And so it's an opportunity for him."
The projected lineup for the Devils based on line rushes is as follows:
Mackenzie Blackwood is the projected starter for New Jersey and will face Semyon Varlamov on the other end.
-- Chris Wescott, NewJerseyDevils.com
DEVILS (14-19-6) at ISLANDERS (25-10-3)
TV: 7:00 p.m. ET; Televised on MSG
Tonight's game is the first of four meetings between the two teams this season.
Last season, the Islanders won all four meetings: twice in regulation with the Devils on the road and at Prudential Center once in a shootout and once in overtime.
Devils team scope:
The Devils are playing some of their best hockey of the season having registered points in six of their last eight games and four in a row. Last time out, they defeated the Boston Bruins 3-2 in a shootout. Boston has only seven regulation losses all season and ranks third in the NHL overall but the Devils beat them and controlled the play for 50 minutes of that game, outshooting them 44-30.
New Jersey is now within three points of San Jose, Anaheim and Ottawa and four points of Los Angeles ahead of them in the standings with multiple games in hand on most of those teams.
Kyle Palmieri, with 27 points, is the team's leading scorer and goal scorer with 15 goals. He was recently named as the Devils representative to the 2020 NHL All-Star Game.
Nico Hischier is the Devils player on the ballot for the NHL's "Last Men In" draw. He has 23 points in 34 games this season.
Islanders team scope:
The Islanders have been among the class of the League for most of the season. Earlier this season, they picked up a point in 17 straight games (15-0-2). Since that time, they've come back down to earth a bit at 9-7-1 but they've still kept pace with the Metro Division leading Washington Capitals. The Caps are six points up on the Islanders but the Isles hold three games in hand.
Mathew Barzal leads the team with 18 goals and 34 points in 38 games while Brock Nelson is second with 14 goals and 30 points. Goaltender Semyon Varlamov is 14-3-0 this season in 20 starts with a 2.43 goals-against average and .920 save percentage.
By the Numbers:
New York is 18-5-1 this season in games that they're outshot and only 7-4-2 when outshooting their opponent. Islanders have had most of their success this season against the Atlantic Division with a 12-1-0 record. Against the Metro Division, they're 7-3-1. Devils are 3-5-1 against the Metro.