Islanders Look To 'Get A Piece Of The Rock' Thursday In New Jersey

The New York Islanders look to finish off their five game road trip with a win at the Prudential Center in Newark against the New Jersey Devils Thursday night at 7 p.m. (Photo credit: Flikr/bridgetds)

The Isles are currently 2-1-1 on this trip after Tuesday night's destruction of the Pittsburgh Penguins. As always, the Islanders are led by their star John Tavares who has two goals and six assists for eight points in the season's first eight games.

Among the early season surprises for the 3-2-1 Islander team is Michael Grabner, who has four goals so far this season and has played with some serious skill and jump. It certainly seems that playing in his native Austria in the offseason was beneficial for the winger, as he has been arguably the best Islander so far this season. (Photo credit: Flikr/bridgetds)

Another early season surprise is the play of the third line, which is composed of center Keith Aucoin between David Ullstrom and Colin McDonald. No one thought this line would be capable of doing what it has done so far this season. The trio has combined for five goals and ten points; not too bad for a line of a waiver wire pick up, an unheralded off-season free agent signing, and a guy who is little more than a rookie.

This line will have to do its work in New Jersey without McDonald though, as he was handed a two game suspension on Wednesday. The suspension was given to McDonald for his hit on Ben Lovejoy of the Penguins on Tuesday evening. Chasing the puck, McDonald got behind Lovejoy and followed him to the puck, where he crushed the defenseman into the end boards.  In the contest, McDonald was assessed a five minute major for boarding and a game misconduct.

The Islanders have the fifth best power play so far this season at 30%, but they will be up against a Devils penalty kill ranked fourth at 88.5%. They're just behind the Isles third ranked penalty kill that has allowed only one goal so far on the kill all season.

The Devils power play is ranked only 18th, but they will still put the New York penalty killers to the test, as they are led by premier goal scorer Illya Kovalchuk. The talented forward has registered points in four of New Jersey's five games so far this season, including an assist in the team's opening night victory on Long Island. Kovalchuk plays on the power play and also on the penalty kill, notching a shorthanded goal already this year. He logs a lot of ice time, and it will be up to Jack Capuano to try to keep the matchup he wants on Kovalchuk, a task made all the harder by being on the road.

The Devils have been a pleasant surprise so far this season. They have points in all five of their contests and have looked like a team that is in mid-season form. Many pundits counted the Devils, who reached the Stanley Cup Finals last season, out of the playoffs before the season started, but if they can continue their high level of play, returning to the playoffs will be no issue.

Expect the Devils to play future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur Thursday night. Johan Hedberg played in New Jersey's overtime loss to conference leading Boston on Tuesday, so Brodeur, who logs a heavy workload anyway, is rested. If he goes, he will try to repeat his opening night performance when he backstopped the Devils to a 2-1 victory. (Photo credit: Flikr/paul.hadsall)

The Islanders are likely to counter with Evgeni Nabokov. Nabokov has established himself as the Isles number one netminder, and even though he faced 38 shots on Tuesday in Pittsburgh, he really was not tested most all night. If the Isles decide it is Rick DiPietro time, do not fret. He played well against Boston last week even though he was collared with the loss, and he has stellar career numbers against New Jersey, posting a .923 save percentage and registering three shutouts.

With five points on the road trip so far, the Islanders are guaranteed to end this trip with at least a .500 record, which is pretty good, especially under the circumstances. However, the team would like to head home on a winning note. If they can prevail, it will definitely help them in their quest to return to the playoffs. Let's go Islanders!

-Donovan Brooks

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