DEVILS (36-23-5) at ISLANDERS (27-29-9)
TV: MSG, MSG PLUS
LAST 10: New Jersey 5-4-1; New York 4-5-1
Season Series: The teams are meeting for only the third time this season -- and they haven't seen each other since splitting two games on Thanksgiving weekend. The Devils won 1-0 at the Nassau Coliseum, but the Islanders averted a weekend sweep with a 3-2 win in Newark. This is the first of three meetings between the teams in a seven-day stretch; the Isles play three in a row against New Jersey, while the Devils host the Rangers on Tuesday before playing the Islanders again Thursday and Saturday.
Big Story: Both teams are playing for the third time in less than 72 hours, and they're both coming off surprising victories. New Jersey had Saturday off after routing the Capitals 5-0 in Washington on Friday night, while the Islanders ended a four-game trip on a positive note with a 3-2 win in Boston, keeping their faint playoff hopes alive.
Devils: New Jersey arrived in Washington with a four-game losing streak, including a 4-3 overtime loss at Boston the night before. The slide didn't make the trip back to New Jersey after the Devils played perhaps their best game of the season. Zach Parise had a hat trick, Johan Hedberg stopped 23 shots and the Devils had the sellout crowd at Verizon Center booing the home team in a 5-0 win.
But a popular subject at Saturday's practice was the fact that the Devils and Islanders are going to be seeing a lot of each other in the next week.
"We were talking today that I don't think anyone on our staff as seen that before, especially the Islanders' schedule where they don't have anybody in between," coach Peter DeBoer said. "We've got a break with the Rangers in between two of the games, but you look at the Islanders' schedule and it's New Jersey, New Jersey, New Jersey, three in a row and that's pretty rare. It is almost like a playoff series."
Islanders: After being outmuscled in Philadelphia on Thursday, the Islanders did a better job of standing up to another big team on Saturday afternoon on Boston. The Isles gave up a 2-1 lead early in the third period, but a late goal on a deflection by John Tavares and 32 saves by Evgeni Nabokov gave New York a welcome 3-2 win -- just the second in their last 10 visits to TD Garden.
"Every game we come in, guys want to compete and play hard," coach Jack Capuano said. "Maybe people, if you look at the standings, might not give us a chance. But, we laced them up and went out there tonight. I thought we gave a great effort. The four lines generated some good things and I thought we were structurally sound defensively. Nabby shut the door on the PK and at the end of the game with the big save that he made."
Who's Hot: Parise has five goals in his last four games. David Clarkson had two assists on Friday and is having a career year with 25 goals and 37 points. … Nabokov is 10-4-1 in his last 15 decisions after beating the Bruins.
Injury Report: Devils forward Alexei Ponikarovsky had an MRI on his injured leg, which kept him out of Friday's game. New Jersey is also without defenseman Henrik Tallinder (leg) and center Travis Zajac (Achilles). … The Islanders are missing goaltender Al Montoya (upper body).
Stat Pack: The last five meetings between the teams have been one-goal games, including one OT decision and one that was decided in a shootout. … Saturday's victory marked only the eighth time in 33 tries this season that the Islanders won a game after allowing the first goal. …. New Jersey is tied with Los Angeles and Montreal for the most goals scored while playing 5-on-3 (6); the Islanders are one of two teams that have not scored any. ... The Devils have scored and allowed 13 shorthanded goals, the most in the League in both categories.
Puck Drop: New Jersey's Petr Sykora will reach a milestone when he steps onto the ice Sunday -- he'll be taking part in his 1,000th NHL regular-season game. Sykora, the Devils' first-round pick in the 1995 NHL Draft, looked like his NHL career was over when he became a free in the summer of 2010 and wound up spending a season in Europe. But he came to camp with the Devils last September, made the team and has generated 15 goals and 34 points in 64 games.
"I think it's a great accomplishment, next to getting your jersey retired or winning a Stanley Cup, for me, to be able to play that long at this level," coach Peter DeBoer said after Saturday's practice. "It's such a hard league to get into. Every year you've got a new crop of young guys coming in trying to take your job. I think it's an amazing stat and an amazing accomplishment.
"You go to Russia and you leave and it looks like it's all over -- so credit to him, credit to (GM) Lou (Lamoriello) for recognizing his potential value and he's brought that for us."