After 119 days locked out, the NHL season finally kicked off on Saturday. The big question for clubs, including the New Jersey Devils, was how they would play following months of non-competitive games.
As to be expected, tonight’s contest at a sold out Nassau Coliseum saw sloppy play from the Devils and the New York Islanders. Mistimed passes, slow line changes, inefficient pressure in the offensive zone were common throughout the 60 minutes. Yet New Jersey was able to come away with the 2-1 victory to start 2013 on the right foot.
“For the 1st game in 5 or 6 months I thought structurally we were pretty good and we got some big saves from Marty when we needed them,” said head coach Peter DeBoer.
One of the Devils concerns this year is the secondary scoring following the departures of Zach Parise, Petr Sykora and Alexi Ponikarovsky.
For tonight, the top two lines did their jobs to answer the call.
At 14:01 in the second period, Henrik Tallinder caught New York on a line change, sending Ilya Kovalchuk and Zajac on a 2-on-1 break. Kovalchuck made a beautiful saucer pass over the sliding defenseman Mark Streit. Travis Zajac, who signed an 8-year, $46 million contract extension earlier this week, crashed the net and banged the puck past the sliding Evgeni Nabokov.
While the Islanders had dangerous spurts, the pace of play was controlled by the Devils for most of the night. The defense did a good job limiting New York’s top of John Tavares, Matt Moulson, and Kyle Okposo.
New York would knot it up on their second powerplay in the third period. The four white jerseys shifted towards the far boards during a battle the puck. The Islanders recovered, passed to a wide open Travis Hamonic in the slot, who beat Brodeur glove side at 7:12 into the final frame.
The arena was shaking from the energized Islanders fans. It was loud and lively within the old barn…for the next minute before Clarkson gave his team the go-ahead goal. Tedenby pushed the puck across the blue line before Patrick Elias picked it up. He dropped the puck behind him for Clarkson, who sent a low shot on net through a few bodies. Nabokov never saw it until it got to him. That would prove to be the game winner.
“We’re going to have to score by committee,” said DeBoer. “They’re going to be low-scoring games. We’re going to have to take care of our own end. I liked the fact that we didn’t give up more than 20 shots tonight. That’s the kind of hockey we’re going to have to play.”
This was also the NHL debut for New Jersey’s first round pick Stefan Matteau. He played a physical game on the fourth line alongside Jacob Josefson and Cam Janseen, and Kovalchuk who double shifted a few times. He didn’t make any costly mistakes in 7:26 icetime, but he threw a few blind passes when he tried to sustain pressure. “I thought he did a great job. First NHL game, I felt comfortable putting him on the ice” said DeBoer. Matteau can play five more games with the big club before a decision is made if he’ll be sent back to his junior team in the QMJHL.
Special teams were not bad, but definitely will be a work in progress under new assistant coach Matt Shaw. The powerplay went 0-for-2 and did not look threatening. Shaw’s philosophy is to shoot the puck on the man advantage. The Devils only had two shots on net, but hey, they didn’t give up a shorthanded goal.
As for the penalty kill, it was much busier against a good powerplay unit. They killed off 2-of-3 opportunities, but it was not pretty. The Isles created good chances down low, found the equalizer on the man advantage, and made the defenders chase them at times. Brodeur came up big on the last penalty kill to preserve the lead.
It was a pleasure to see the game in person. There are few times the Nassau Coliseum will rock up and down, but there’s no other arena left in the NHL that has that environment. Looking across the arena, there was a considerable amount of red jerseys in the stands. Security was busy all around kicking out fans creating a ruckus, which is usually seen at a Islanders/Rangers game.
Even the players acknowledged the fans passion on display today, thankful that they’re back to support the game.
“You come into a building that’s usually empty and it’s packed, I think it’s great,” Brodeur said.
“The crowd was unbelievable. It’s just great that hockey is back in N. America and I can’t wait for the home opener on Tuesday,” said Kovalchuk.
EXTRAS: New Jersey struggled at the face-off dot tonight (won 21 of 51). Zajac won a team best 8-of-15, while Elias had a team worst 1-for-7…the “Fourth Line” of Stephen Giona, Steve Bernier and Ryan Carter played well. They played in all situations and finished with 6 shots, 4 hits alone by Gionta…DeBoer on Tedenby’s performance: “Teddy had a good game tonight. He’s maturing. He’s still a young player and because he hasn’t stepped into a full-time role after one or two years in the American Hockey League, everybody is down on him. But Patty Elias spent time in the American league and so did a lot of other guys. He’s coming around. He’s getting better. Every time we bring him in he gets a little bit better.”…Islanders coach Jack Capuano was not on the bench due to a medical issue. Assistant Doug Weight was the acting head coach…
About the Author: Sports Reporter by day, puck stopper between the pipes at night. I was the Locker Room Reporter for the Islanders for WRHU-FM. Currently, I cover the New Jersey Devils on HockeyIndependent.com and Metro Area Hockey on BrooklynFans.com Follow me on Twitter @John_A_Iadevaia