The New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils are dealing with extended absences to their top goaltenders. Their replacements - although unheralded - are proving they are capable of handling the load.
Getting an unexpected lift from Joey MacDonald, the Islanders look to extend their longest winning streak of the season to four games on Friday night when they visit the Devils.
The one constant for the Islanders (7-9-2) and Devils (9-7-2) in recent seasons has been in net, where Martin Brodeur and Rick DiPietro usually are when these teams meet. But with Brodeur sidelined until March following elbow surgery and DiPietro out at least another few weeks with a knee problem, both clubs have been left without their marquee players.
Despite entering this season with only 17 games of NHL experience, MacDonald was given the role of backing up the injury-prone DiPietro and is now thrust into the No. 1 job.
MacDonald has responded by going 7-6-2 with a 2.68 goals-against average. He has been much better lately, helping the Islanders to three straight wins while allowing only four goals on 102 shots for a .961 save percentage.
MacDonald outplayed Roberto Luongo on Monday, stopping 31 shots through overtime before denying all three shootout attempts as New York beat Vancouver 2-1.
"When the game is on the line ... that's what you want your goalie to do - make those big saves," Islanders first-year coach Scott Gordon said.
Strong goaltending has been a necessity because the Islanders aren't scoring much. They have scored three or fewer goals in seven straight contests and rank near the bottom of the NHL with 2.50 per game this season.
MacDonald, expected to make his ninth straight start on Friday, is 1-1-1 with a 1.67 GAA in three starts against the Devils.
Veteran Kevin Weekes struggled in place of Brodeur earlier this month, paving the way for Scott Clemmensen to get some playing time. The career backup made his third straight start Thursday against visiting Florida and stopped 23 shots in a 3-1 victory.
"They had a lot of good chances," New Jersey's Brian Gionta said. "(Clemmensen) showed a lot of poise and a lot of confidence just kicking them away and weathering the storm."
Clemmensen, who has never made more than nine starts during a six-year career with Toronto and New Jersey, has allowed two goals or fewer in four of five appearances this season. He is 0-1-1 with a 2.60 GAA in three games against the Islanders.
"I have played games in this league before, obviously," Clemmensen said. "But they have been spread out and kind of sporadic. When you play only once in a while, you try to do everything so perfectly. You squeeze the stick a little. I know I have an opportunity and I want to go for it."
Patrik Elias and Gionta each had a goal and an assist as the Devils won their second straight following a four-game skid.
The Islanders will get their most physical defenseman back Friday as Brendan Witt returns after missing four weeks with a sprained knee.
Witt will keep close watch on New Jersey's Zach Parise, who has four goals and three assists in his last six games against the Islanders.
Brodeur stopped a penalty shot and made 25 saves in the Devils' 2-1 home win over the Islanders on Oct. 10.
New York is 7-2-1 in the last 10 meetings, but both regulation losses have come at New Jersey.