UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- November has been a nightmare for the New York Islanders in recent years, a month where good starts seem to fall apart.
But not this season.
The Islanders host the New Jersey Devils at Nassau Coliseum on Saturday looking for their 11th win in 14 games this month. They are 16-7-0 despite a 5-2 road loss to the Washington Capitals on Friday, and this is their best November in recent memory.
"We have to take care of business tonight, but it's been a successful November for us," forward Kyle Okposo said after the Islanders optional morning skate. "It started to turn around for us in Anaheim and we started to believe after that game [a 3-2 overtime victory]. Then L.A., playing them back-to-back [winning 2-1 in a shootout the next night], and we started to realize what kind of a team we have in here. When we play the right way, the way we want to play, we're a tough team to beat."
New York is without two of its top-six defensemen. Johnny Boychuk is out with an upper-body injury that prevented him from playing in Washington, and Lubomir Visnovsky left that game with an upper-body injury and won't play Saturday. Brian Strait dressed in place of Boychuk in Washington and will play again, and Matt Donovan will dress for only the second time this season in place of Visnovsky.
Donovan was a healthy scratch for the Islanders first 20 games before making his season debut Monday night against the Philadelphia Flyers. He played 16:15 in a 1-0 shootout victory and showed little rust despite the long layoff.
"I was in a tough position not having played all season. Playing after sitting out for 20 games is pretty difficult, so I kept things simple and I'll try to continue that tonight," the second-year defenseman said.
The Islanders will go back to Jaroslav Halak in goal after Chad Johnson played in the loss to the Capitals.
The Devils have their own injury problems. Two of their top-six forwards, Adam Henrique and Travis Zajac, were injured in a 5-4 shootout loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday and will not play. Henrique has an upper-body injury; Zajac left with a lower-body injury. Neither made the trip to Long Island.
Damien Brunner and Jordin Tootoo will dress against the Islanders.
"The expectation is that these guys are going to come in and be hungry and prove that they should have been in the lineup all along," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said before the game. "That’s the kind of response you’re looking for."
DeBoer said Mike Cammalleri, who’s usually the first-line left wing, is likely to move to center for a night.
"He’s played some center before so he’ll probably to the middle," said DeBoer, who also announced that Cory Schneider will start in goal for the 23rd time in New Jersey’s 24 games.
Devils forward Jaromir Jagr, now 42, has feasted on the Islanders throughout his NHL career, piling up 61 of his 709 goals and 103 of his 1,770 points against them. His 709th goal came Friday and moved him past Mike Gartner into sixth place on the all-time list. He's one behind Marcel Dionne for fifth all-time in points.
"I think anytime you can play that long and continue to have the point production that he has, it's pretty impressive," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "He keeps himself in good shape, loves the game. You hear stories about guys who've played that long and there's a reason why. For us, we have to make sure we limit his time and space. He's got a big body, a long reach, and he uses his body effectively, especially in the offensive zone.
"For us tonight, it's going to be no different than when we play against other elite players. We just try to contain him."
Jagr said he’s more concerned about shutting down the Islanders’ offense.
"They have a pretty explosive team, a lot of skill up front," he said. "They love to play [an] offensive game, so we have to make sure we don't give them much."
Here are the projected lineups:
Damien Brunner - Mike Cammalleri – Jaromir Jagr
Martin Havlat - Patrik Elias – Michael Ryder
Tuomo Ruutu - Jacob Josefson – Steve Bernier
Dainius Zubrus - Stephen Gionta - Jordin Tootoo
Andy Greene - Damon Severson
Peter Harrold - Marek Zidlicky
Seth Helgeson - Adam Larsson
Scratched: Eric Gelinas
Injured: Jon Merrill (upper body), Bryce Salvador (lower body), Ryane Clowe (concussion), Adam Henrique (upper body), Travis Zajac (lower body)
Nikolay Kulemin – John Tavares – Kyle Okposo
Mikhail Grabovski – Frans Nielsen – Josh Bailey
Anders Lee – Brock Nelson – Ryan Strome
Matt Martin – Casey Cizikas – Cal Clutterbuck
Nick Leddy – Brian Strait
Calvin de Haan – Travis Hamonic
Thomas Hickey – Matt Donovan
Scratched: Cory Conacher
Injured: Michael Grabner (lower body), Eric Boulton (lower body), Matt Carkner (back), Johnny Boychuk (upper body), Lubomir Visnovsky (upper body)
Status report: The Devils say Henrique and Zajac could be back next week, perhaps as early as Tuesday against the Pittsburgh Penguins. … Capuano said Boychuk and Visnovsky are day-to-day and the Islanders will know more about a possible return in the next couple of days. New York is finishing a stretch of six games in nine days. Hamonic will play despite blocking a shot with his foot in the third period Friday. He left the game briefly before returning.
Who’s hot: Cammalleri scored twice on the power play against Detroit and leads the team with 10 goals. … Halak has won his past eight starts, allowing 10 goals in that span. Tavares and Lee have goals in back-to-back games.