The New Jersey Devils (34-36-5) enter tonight’s game against the New York Islanders (29-35-12) in unfamiliar territory.
For the first time since the 1995-96 season, the Devils will not qualify for postseason play. Those 13 consecutive postseason appearances stood as the second longest streak in hockey. Even with a scorching second half run, they could only get within six points of the playoffs.
Now just three points away from mathematical elimination, the players need to find a way to finish the season strong. Devils coach Jacques Lemaire believes the team needs to only look at their turnaround for motivation.
“The guys were in the sewage,” Lemaire told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. “They got out of there. They start to feel good. Now, we’re going to go back?
“The message is to play the best they can. They have to finish the job by playing well.”
The Devils enter tonight’s matchup against the Islanders looking to break their offensive slide. During the team’s recent 1-4-1 slump, they’ve managed only five goals and have been shut out three times. New Jersey’s last goal came in the first period of a 4-1 loss against the Boston Bruins eight days ago, a span of 173 minutes and 55 seconds of scoreless hockey. It sits just 11 minutes and 49 seconds away from setting the franchise record for offensive ineptitude.
Lemaire believed the Devils needed to improve the little things to find goals.
“Maybe a little more determined around the net, maybe drive a little more at the net, getting traffic a little more, look for tips, a little more intensity, desire to score,” Lemaire told Gulitti. “All of that.”
The Devils will look to break that streak against the rival Islanders, who will miss the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons. New Jersey is 3-2-0 against the Isles this season, winning the last three meetings. They’ve scored at least three goals in all their wins.
Rick DiPietro will get the start for the Islanders. The former top overall pick has made only one start against the Devils this season, stopped 29 shots in a 2-0 shutout on November 26. He’s 6-2-0 with a 1.49 goals-against average in his last eight starts against New Jersey.
Martin Brodeur will make his 15th consecutive start for the Devils. He’s recorded a 1.92 goals-against average in his last three starts against the Islanders.
Parise Won’t Play
The Devils will be without one key player for tonight’s matchup. Zach Parise decided to delay his return to the lineup until Saturday’s game against the Montreal Canadiens.
Parise felt he needed a few more practices before he played.
“I think I need a couple more practices,” he told Gulitti. “I wasn’t ready quite ready to go tonight, so we decided to wait a couple more days.”
Parise will participate in a full practice Thursday and the morning skate on Friday. He also plans on doing extra work to prepare for Saturday’s game. The left-winger, who practiced last Thursday after missing most of the season with a torn meniscus, admitted some disappointment to the delay.
“In a way it is, but I just know in my mind it wouldn’t be a good idea,” he said to Gulitti. “You do get the game feeling and the game atmosphere coming in this side (of the arena) and watching all of these guys getting ready to play, but I don’t think it would be a very good idead.”