UNIONDALE, N.Y.– Poor line changes, sloppy puck exchanges, and anemic forechecking led to a less-than stellar home/season opener for the New York Islanders, as the New Jersey Devils claim their first victory of this truncated season by a score of 2-1, led by the solid goaltending of the ever-staunch Martin Brodeur.
The Devils outshot the Islanders by a margin of 28 to 19 and began dominating the netural zone and boards after a shaky start to their game–a question of rust and dust, it seems. The Islanders, on the other hand, jetted out of the gate, taking it to Brodeur early and even generating a penatly in the process, but failed to capitalize on that energy and the Devils’s initial disorientation.
After five minutes of play in the first period, the Devils found their legs, and, thus their rhythm, and became as stingy as ever, clogging up the netural zone, forcing bad passes, and captializing on the Islanders lack of aggression on the forecheck and timidity at shooting the puck. All in all, the Islanders most assuredly played like a team with little chemistry, conditioning, and poise, as it boils down to analyzing individual performances (and not much in that deparment, either) rather than a summation about a solid team effort.
Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov looked sharp and, quite frankly, the most game ready of all Islanders on last night’s squad, with the exception of John Tavares, Michael Grabner, and on occasion, Kyle Okposo. And Nabokov is the sole reason this game did not get away from them early on, making key saves from all angles, and do everything possible to limit rebounds in front of his net. Nabokov carried this beleagured team on his shoulders all through the first period, which saw a dip in Islanders energy.
The second period proved as hapless for the Isles as the one before it. The Devils capitalized on an absolutely wretched Islanders line change that left Nabokov vulnerable to a 3 on 1 rush, and gave Travis Zajac and the Devils their first notch for the year, with help from Ilya Kovalchuk and Henrick Talliner at the 14:01 mark.
The Islanders forechecking diminshed with time, and with the exception of some shots from the points and one from the slot that clanked off of the right pipe of Brodeur’s net, the Islanders couldn’t muster any decent rushes of which to report or herald. In short, their game was weak. Not flat. I’m with assistant coach Doug Weight on this one. Not flat at all, just weak and clumsy and sloppy hockey:
"Flat sounds like a bad word and it is but I don’t know if they were flat. They were a little jittery […] You have a week for camp. You have a week to prepare for an opponent as well."
Thing about the whole ‘week for camp’ scenario, is, well, so did the Devils. Nevertheless, the Devils appear to be in position to rack up a series of early season wins, provided that Brodeur stays healthy and the others stay focused. Additionally, resigning Kovalchuk was of critical importance for Devils success, and his role for the year as a major penalty killer was proven last night as he played all of the Devils’s penalty killing minutes except for the one penalty he himself served at the 13:47 mark of the third period.
Travis Hamonic gave the Islanders their first goal of the season and sole goal of the evening on a Power Play at the 7:12 mark of the third period. I’d go into a description about it, the quality of the shot, etc., but about 65 seconds later the Devils took the lead for good with a goal by David Clarkson, assisted by Patrik Elias and Mattias Tedenby. Upon closer inspection, Clarkson’s shot may have nicked Brian Strait’s skate, catching Nabokov offguard.
The third period proved to be the only moment of lively hockey the Islanders could muster last night. Overall, this team has yet to coalesece and I do not see it happening by Monday against the Bolts, who come into the Coliseum having overpowered the Capitals 6-2 in Tampa.
For me, the only highlight and hope lay with Evgeni Nabokov, for his reflexes were strong and his vision, for the most part, prepared for the onslaught of shots the Islanders allowed and are bound to allow this season. Honorable mention is the talented and always exciting John Tavares, who showed some nifty stick handling and passing, but not enough to help carry the Islanders over the hump. These two men have the Sisyphean-like task of saving this team from another losing season.
- The Devils have very little time left to their relevancy and potency (for it all hinges on Brodeur’s retirement) as Stanley Cup contenders, but for now, they’re in the driver’s seat.
- Rick DiPietro was booed at his introduction. No love-loss there, right?
- Jack Capuano was NOT behind the bench last night due to kidney stones. In my opinion, may not have mattered all that much. But maybe the line change error wouldn’t have happened?
- The Islanders packed the house last night: 16,170
- The Islanders won the most faceoffs last night: 30 to 21. Something to keep an eye on for the future.
- Keeping it straight: Mark Streit, Brian Strait BOTH on Defense. Have fun with that.
- Radek Martinek did not play last night. Islanders need veteran experience in the back. Hopefully, he will dress against Tampa this Monday.