Both the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders have been without their franchise goaltenders most of this season. But while one team has flourished, the other has sunk to the bottom of the league.
The Devils look to send the lowly Islanders to their seventh straight loss when the Atlantic Division rivals meet Saturday night at Nassau Coliseum.
Losing star goaltender Martin Brodeur to a torn biceps injury in early November figured to spell trouble for New Jersey (26-15-3), which has relied on the future Hall of Famer as the face of the franchise for nearly two decades.
After Kevin Weekes struggled in Brodeur's place, career backup Scott Clemmensen was given an opportunity and he has seized the No. 1 role by going 16-7-1 with a 2.42 goals-against average in his last 24 starts. Clemmensen, who had never started more than nine games before this season, snapped a personal three-game losing streak with a 26-save effort in a 5-3 victory at Vancouver on Tuesday.
Weekes started the opening game of New Jersey's six-game road trip - a 5-1 win over Los Angeles - before Clemmensen went 1-1 in the next two contests. Weekes was back in net Friday at Columbus and played well again, stopping 26 shots as the Devils got third-period goals from Travis Zajac and John Madden in a 2-1 victory.
"We couldn't generate that much offensively, which is tough playing against that Steve Mason kid," Weekes said. "He's been awesome. Coach kind of handed it to us a little bit in the (second) intermission. He said we needed to get back to doing what makes us a successful team. We did that."
Clemmensen is likely to be back in net Saturday. He is 0-1-1 with a 2.91 goals-against average in two career starts against the Islanders.
Brendan Shanahan, who signed as a free agent with the Devils earlier in the week, could make his season debut in this game, but it's more likely to come Monday against Nashville.
This figured to be a long season for the Islanders (12-28-4) under first-year coach Scott Gordon, but the hope was that goaltender Rick DiPietro - an All-Star last season - could keep the team close in most games. DiPietro, though, was coming off knee surgery and further surgery was required in late October, limiting the former top overall pick to five games and only two in the last two-plus months.
Joey MacDonald performed well in DiPietro's place, but suffered a strained groin in a 2-1 loss to the New York Rangers on Tuesday that will sideline him 2-to-4 weeks.
Yann Danis stopped 25 shots in a 2-1 loss to East-leading Boston on Thursday, the Islanders' sixth consecutive defeat.
Danis figures to see most of the playing time over the next several weeks, but with no reliable backup, New York on Thursday brought back Wade Dubielewicz, who spent four seasons with the Islanders before signing with Ak Bars Kazan of the Continental League in Russia during the offseason.
Although they outshot Boston 41-27, the Islanders dropped to 2-16-2 in their last 20 games.
Gordon was pleased with his team's effort despite the defeat.
"We just played two teams in first place," he said. "We've started to put together more consistent 60-minute efforts. Obviously, it's only two games, but it's a very encouraging sign."
The Devils have won both meetings this season against the Islanders and four of the last five. New Jersey has at least one point in nine of its last 11 (6-2-3) visits to Nassau Coliseum.