Sunday, January 20, 2013

NJD 2, NYI 1: Rust Shows, Isles Falter in Opening Night Goaltending Duel

Tonight's season opener wasn't a particularly good one for the Islanders.

It wasn't a particularly bad one, either. Just not the game they wanted to have.

A slow start set the wrong tone and, unfortunately for the Isles, they woke up too late (at about the 9:40 mark of the second period) and made dumb mistakes at inopportune times.

First, it was an ill-advised line change that led to a 3-on-1 for New Jersey.

Mark Streit was on an island all by himself and, though he attempted to thwart the offensive threat, Ilya Kovalchuk's nifty saucer pass to Travis Zajac resulted in a Devil goal, putting them ahead 1-0.

The Isles would knot it up in the third period, on a power play tally by Travis Hamonic. Michael Grabner (we'll get to him in a minute) found Hamonic undetected in the slot, who then ripped a shot up and over Marty Brodeur. Kyle Okposo had the secondary assist on the play.

But whatever joy may have come from that Islander score lasted just 1:05, as David Clarkson's wrister snuck past a screened Evgeni Nabokov, giving the Devils a 2-1 lead they would not relinquish.

New York had chances to score, but Brodeur (age 40) had other plans. He was in tip-top shape and, if I hadn't known any better, I'd assume he was at least 15 years younger.

Speaking of quality goaltending, Nabokov provided just that. He robbed Mattias Tedenby on a breakaway in the first period, and made several key stops tonight. Nabby finished with 28 saves and was named the third star of the game.

At times, the offense looked a bit out of sync. At others, they put on the type of sustained pressure they couldn't last year. It took them too long to arrive in this hockey game, but if they can avoid a slow start on future occasions, they'll be just fine.

Michael Grabner was easily the best forward on the ice for either side. He got on the scoresheet with an assist, had three shots, blocked a shot and made big defensive plays in both penalty kill and even-strength situations.

I thought John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Brad Boyes and David Ullstrom played well. They looked sharp, even if they took a while to get there. Boyes in particular had a strong night. He made a nice move and shanked one of the post, but the goals will come.

Travis Hamonic played one of the best games of his young career, scoring a goal and being positionally-sound at both ends of the ice. Newcomer Brian Strait, picked up off waivers from Pittsburgh, impressed me as well.

The most disappointing Islander tonight was the one you'd never expect to be, and that was Matt Moulson. He simply looked lost and did not play his game or crash the net the way we're used to seeing from him. That trend cannot continue, and I hardly expect it will.

All in all, there was what to like from the New York Islanders tonight. There was also what to be upset about, but luckily for the Isles, there are still 47 games to go.

I wouldn't freak out just yet. This was a rather-makeshift lineup and the Isles were definitely suffering from a mild case of post-lockout syndrome.

The Isles have their work cut out for them, but there's plenty of time and they're capable of the task.

NOTE: Head Coach Jack Capuano missed tonight's game with kidney stones. Assistant Coach Brent Thompson took over as bench boss tonight, with Doug Weight at his side.

Comments are welcome. 


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