It was far from a traditional opening night in Long Island.
Normally, the first game of the season is filled with an uneasy feeling, coupled with sloppy play and some players getting to know how to play with one another.
But, let’s face it — with a 48-game season, there isn’t time for that to happen — and that was evident Saturday night between the New Jersey Devils (1-0-0) and New York Islanders (0-1-0).
In a 2-1 Devils victory, both teams looked as if they were in mid-season form, spearheaded by both goalies, Martin Brodeur and Evgeni Nabokov. Brodeur finished with 18 saves for New Jersey; Nabokov collected 26 stops for New York.
More than anything, though, both teams appeared to be sound defensively, something that usually doesn’t come along until later in a normal NHL season.
As expected, the Devils took some time to find a scoring touch, but when they did, it was pretty. A perfect saucer pass from Ilya Kovalchuk landed on Travis Zajac‘s stick midway through the second period to give the Devils the lead.
Even after the Islanders answered in the third period — on a smart play from Travis Hamonic to find the open ice in the slot — New Jersey answered back quickly.
In this lockout-shortened season, every win is going to mean something, but it’s a big deal that the Devils were able to beat the Islanders last night. The fact of the matter is, playoff teams can’t afford to lose to teams at the bottom of the conference, and there’s a good chance that’s where the Islanders will be in April.
Naturally, the win over the Islanders wasn’t perfect — it was 100 days after the season was expected to start. But for a first game, there are a lot more positives than negatives to take from it, starting with the fact that it was a win.
Saturday night was certainly a stepping stone for the Devils, but expect things to pick up over the next few weeks. Now, New Jersey can get back into the rhythm of a normal season, with the Philadelphia Flyers coming to Newark on Tuesday night.
Time will tell how the Devils will fare in 2013, but in Saturday was an indicator, they have the potential to bring a strong game every night.