By Pat Pickens
If the Devils are going to play every game like they played their opener on Long Island, we here at Devils Insiders will grow gray hairs.
I should only speak for myself, and say if nights like Saturday are going to be the norm, I’m going to gain some whitening follicles.
The Devils’ offense wasn’t potent, and New Jersey coughed up a third-period lead — when down a man no less.
But the Devils’ defense was very good, Martin Brodeur looked sharp, and the Devils left Nassau Coliseum with a 2-1 win over the Islanders on Saturday.
David Clarkson’s game-winner at 8:17 of the third — from Patrik Elias and Mattias Tedenby — came just 1:05 after Travis Hamonic tied the game for New York.
Elias dropped a pass for Clarkson, then went to the front of the net to distract New York netminder Evgeni Nabakov. Clarkson’s shot beat Nabakov over the blocker.
“I wasn’t aiming to go there,” Clarkson told MSG-Plus reporter Deb Placey during the Devils’ postgame, “but [the puck] went there.”
Brodeur stopped 18 shots, and was the game’s No. 2 star. Brodeur made his best save with his glove on Hamonic’s try with just 4:14 left in the third. He also robbed Michael Grabner with his mitt very early in the third, keeping the Devils ahead 1-0.
Though it surrendered a power-play goal, the Devils’ defense was on-point for most of the night.
Henrik Tallinder had an assist on Travis Zajac’s second-period goal, was a plus-2, and also played a strong game in the Devils’ end. New Jersey surrendered just 18 shots on opening night, holding New York’s top-line — Kyle Okposo–John Tavares–Matt Moulsen — to just two shots on goal. Okposo did, however, have an assist.
The defense wasn’t perfect, though. Anton Volchenkov was made to look foolish by Brad Boyes in the second, though Boyes hit the post with his ensuing shot.
Tallinder also took the penalty which led to New York’s only goal — when he hooked Boyes. On that Islander power-play, the Devils also failed to win a battle along the wall, which led to Hamonic’s tying goal at 7:12 of the third.
In their first game of the post-Zach Parise era, and with Adam Henrique still out of the lineup with an injury, the Devils’ young forwards stood out.
Tedenby had his assist, drew a penalty and was the Devils’ best player for much of the night. Though he only registered a single shot on goal, Tedenby recorded the Devils’ best first-period chance, sending his breakaway shot over the net.
Stefan Matteau played only 7:26, but held his own. In his first shift, the 18-year-old had two shot attempts, but could not hit the net.
New Jersey’s power play, however, was not great in two tries. The Devils maintained possession but could only generate two shots on their two man-advantages.
If Saturday night was any indication, Zajac’s going to live up to his $46-million contract.
Zajac was the No. 1 star, as he scored New Jersey’s first goal from Ilya Kovalchuk and Tallinder at 15:01 of the second. Zajac fielded Kovalchuk’s incredible saucer-pass, beating Nabakov over the shoulder.
“Heads up play to Kovy, he made a nice saucer to me,” Zajac told Placey at the second intermission. “He gave me an empty net to put it away.”
Zajac’s poise and calm demeanor was a welcome appearance, as the Devils spent much of the first 40 minutes firing the puck either wide or into Nabakov’s pads. New Jersey outshot the Islanders 20-11 through two periods, but only Zajac was able to beat Nabakov.
Zajac did, however, admit that opening night was different from the six-day training camp the Devils endured and told Placey that the Devils were adjusting nicely.
“It’s a lot different than practice,” he said, “it’s tough … you don’t have much time. We’re doing a pretty good job of making plays and controlling the puck.”
Although the first period was scoreless, it was certainly not boring.
The Devils outshot the Isles, 9-3, and had the better of the chances. Only Nabakov’s stops — many of which came with his legs — and the Devils’ inability to hit the net, kept New Jersey off the scoreboard.
Tedenby and Matteau each had good chances. Tedenby missed the net on his breakaway but was the Devils’ best player for much of the period.
The Devils’ penalty kill was sharp, killing off New York’s lone man-advantage. Bryce Salvador was shipped off for cross checking Moulson at 29 seconds.
“We did good job of getting the puck deep, and not making too many plays up the middle,” Salvador told Placey during the first intermission. “I think we accomplished a pretty good first period.”
Brodeur was tested on two tries, stopping Franz Nielsen’s point-blank shot with his stick. Marty also used his shoulder on Grabner’s slap-shot midway through the period.
Kovalchuk led the Devils in ice-time, logging 24:37.
He and Clarkson each had a game-high five shots on goal.
The real winners today were us, the fans.
We suffered through a lockout that stole hockey from us for way longer than it should have, but at least we didn’t have to deal for a totally dark winter as we did in 2004-05.
Congrats to all of us. We have our sport back.
Elsewhere in the Atlantic
Penguins (1-0-0, 2 points) 3, Flyers (0-1-0, 0 points) 1
Bruins (1-0-0, 2 points) 3, Rangers (0-1-0, 0 points) 1
Up Next: The Devils’ home-opener at Prudential Center is Tuesday, against Philadelphia, at 7:30 p.m.
Pat Pickens is a lifelong Devils-fan and New Jersey native. To pay the bills, he works as a sports reporter for Hearst in Connecticut. Send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter here.