B's-Islanders preview: Bruins look to get defensive

B's-Islanders preview: Bruins look to get defensive
December 31, 2013, 3:45 pm

BOSTON -- The Bruins had an interesting 2013, with a second trip in three years to the Stanley Cup Finals along with some compelling performances from players on the team. But tonight, without Dennis Seidenberg, Dougie Hamilton, Loui Eriksson, Carl Soderberg and Chris Kelly, they're just looking for two points in a New Year's matchup against the Islanders.

Hamilton and Zdeno Chara -- who returns tonight after missing a game because of a lower-body injury -- struggled mightily against Thomas Vanek and Jonathan Tavares the last two times these teams played in November, and one would expect the Isles will once again push the pace against an undermanned B’s unit.

“We have to respect the [defensive part] of our game, and know that it’s going to be important for us,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien.

The Islanders have won three of their last five games, but have also allowed 135 goals this season as they reach the midway point in the season. The only NHL team that’s allowed more is the Edmonton Oilers.

So the scoring chances will be there for Bruins players looking for their offense, but youngsters like Ryan Spooner and Matt Fraser need to do a better job of paying attention to all three zones. If they don’t, they’ll end up with reduced ice time as they did on Saturday night in Ottawa.

PLAYER NEEDING HIS TIRED PUMPED: Torey Krug has one goal and four points along with a minus-3 in 12 games during the month of December, and is coming off a rough minus-3 game in Saturday’s loss to Ottawa. Clearly teams are paying more attention to Krug’s big point shot on the power play, but he’s also making a few more mistakes than he was earlier in the season. Much of it can be chalked up to the normal peaks and valleys of an NHL rookie season, but the Bruins could use a breakout performance from Krug at this point.

DRESSING ROOM MANTRA HEADED INTO THE GAME: “The biggest thing for me right now is our forecheck and our neutral zone forecheck. In our last game I thought Ottawa came out of their zone much too easily, and had some scoring chances off the rush. You just can’t do that against the Islanders. They have speed, and they have skill.” – Claude Julien, who clearly didn’t like what he saw defensively against the Senators.

KEY MATCHUP: The Islanders have little defensive resistance or goaltending, and are tied with the Ottawa Senators for the most goals allowed among Eastern Conference teams this season. That should mean a field day for the line of David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Jarome Iginla, all of whom enter Tuesday’s game riding four-game point streaks. Andrew MacDonald and Travis Hamonic are the two lead defensemen for the Isles, and they could be in for a long night.

STAT TO WATCH: 5 – the number of consecutive days that the Bruins have added or dropped a player to their active roster due to injuries.

INJURIES: Zdeno Chara is expected to play for Boston after missing Saturday’s game against the Senators. Dougie Hamilton (lower body), Loui Eriksson (concussion) and forward Carl Soderberg (concussion-like symptoms) have been ruled out for Tuesday, but are skating with the team. Forward Chris Kelly (ankle) remains on injured reserve, and is likely out another three weeks.

New York captain John Tavares (lower body) returned to the lineup Sunday. Defensemen Lubomir Visnovsky (concussion) and Radek Martinek (back) remain on injured reserve. Forwards Michael Grabner (illness) and Josh Bailey (upper body) are questionable for Tuesday’s New Year’s Eve tilt vs. the Bruins.

GOALTENDING MATCHUP: Tuukka Rask was pulled from Saturday night’s game against the Ottawa Senators after playing both ends of the back-to-back, but was the first goalie off the ice on Tuesday’s morning skate. He should be right back in there after getting pulled for the second time in December, and still sits second (with a .938 save percentage) and third (with a 1.89 goals-against average) in the league in the two major goaltending categories.

One would expect Evgeni Nabokov to make the start for the Isles after returning from injury, as he gives them the best chance to win with his 2.88 goals against average and .902 save percentage.