|Devils welcome Grabner on historic night vs. Islanders|
There will be major subplots from the organization's past and present taking place Saturday night when the New Jersey Devils host the New York Islanders at the Prudential Center.
Before the puck drops on this important Eastern Conference clash, the Devils (31-22-8) will honor the franchise's all-time leading scorer, and two-time Stanley Cup champion, Patrik Elias, retiring his No. 26 sweater.
Once the game begins, however, all eyes will be on No. 40 in the home red jersey as Michael Grabner makes his debut for the Devils after being acquired in a pre-deadline trade with the New York Rangers -- a first between the two teams -- on Thursday.
Regarding the former subplot, Devils coach John Hynes had this to say of Elias: "He's such a strong symbol of the past, of where this organization has been. He epitomizes what a Devil is. He's a highly talented player, but he's driven, he's competitive, he's loyal, he's got high character."
Nostalgia aside, Hynes is thrilled with adding the speedy, high-scoring Grabner, who should be a natural fit in New Jersey's fast-paced, up-tempo style of play.
"The most important thing for us was not the name, it was the identity of the player," explained Hynes. "It's really important when you add a player at this time of the year that he fits the identity of your team and Michael should fit right in with his speed and tenacity. His style of play, his level of high character, is what we wanted most. We're really fortunate to acquire a player like him."
Grabner led the Rangers with 25 goals at the time of the deal. Last season, he was second on the club with 27 goals. An unrestricted free agent on July 1, Grabner practiced with his new club on Friday, and will a line centered by Travis Zajac or Pavel Zacha on Saturday.
He's certainly happy about moving to a playoff contender.
"I am excited, and hopefully can help the team the rest of the way," Grabner said on Thursday. "They're a quick team. They have some fast skaters here. I'm just going to try and come in and do what I usually do -- use my speed. There are a lot of guys in here that can keep up with me, so it should be a lot of fun."
Grabner joins a team that sits in an Eastern Conference playoff spot, but which lost its past two games. The Devils are also a team that features Taylor Hall, who extended his personal scoring streak to 20 consecutive games in Wednesday's 4-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild.
The Devils face a team that is just on the outside looking in at a playoff spot in the East, and that has lost four of its past six games following Wednesday's shootout defeat at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Like the Devils, the Islanders (29-26-7) also have a red-hot player in rookie Mathew Barzal. The Calder Trophy favorite recorded three points in Toronto to move past All-Star teammate John Tavares as the club's leading scorer with 65 points, which is also tops among all NHL rookies. His 48 assists are tied for fifth most in the entire league.
"He's been playing really well for us all season," Islanders forward Josh Bailey said of Barzal. "He's so crafty, and he's able to create space for himself and his linemates, and you can see the results."
Bailey also is in the midst of an excellent season with 47 assists and 62 points. On Thursday, the Islanders rewarded Bailey with a six-year, $30-million contract extension.
"He's been here a long time and developed into an All-Star and a great player and a leader in the locker room," Tavares said of Bailey. "So great to see him get rewarded and continue being an Islander for a long time."
Thursday marks the next-to-last meeting between the Devils and Islanders this season. They will meet again in New Jersey on March 31. The Isles own a shootout win, and the Devils notched a regulation victory, in the first two head-to-head games this season.