The New Jersey Devils were ready to start this lockout-shortened season.
David Clarkson’s goal at 8:17 of the third period sent the Devils to a 2-1 season-opening win Saturday over the New York Islanders.
Travis Zajac also scored for New Jersey, which reached the Stanley Cup Final last season before losing to the Los Angeles Kings in six games.
Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur stopped 18 shots to increase his NHL wins record to 657.
”I thought we had a good camp,” said Devils coach Peter DeBoer, who praised his team for arriving to training camp in condition. ”(That) probably allowed us to get two points tonight.”
Travis Hamonic had New York’s goal, a power-play score at 7:12 of the third. Evgeni Nabokov made 26 saves for the Islanders.
”Nabby looked in control. He brings it every night,” said Doug Weight, who replaced Islanders coach Jack Capuano for the game ”due to medical reasons.”
The Islanders did not have an updated status after the game, other to say that Capuano had been admitted to Long Island Jewish Hospital and was expected to return to the team this week.
Weight normally serves a dual role as a special adviser to general manager Garth Snow and one of the two assistant coaches.
The effects of the 119-day lockout and compacted training camp were evident in the season opener for both teams.
Emotion was decidedly lacking save for two brief instances, and passes and shots were not as crisp as they would be at the same point in an 82-game season.
”We came out a little bit flat,” Hamonic said.
It was an assessment that Weight disagreed with.
”Flat sounds like a bad word and it is, but I don’t know if they were flat. They were a little jittery,” Weight said. ”You have a week for camp. You have a week to prepare for an opponent as well.
”The energy was there. They were excited and possibly trying to do too much. I wouldn’t agree with flat.”
On the play that led to Zajac’s goal, New Jersey took advantage of a bad line change by New York with a 3-on-1 break, and Ilya Kovalchuk feathered a cross-ice pass to Zajac, who lifted the puck over Nabokov’s glove 14:01 into the second period for the game’s first goal.
”Big play,” DeBoer said of Kovalchuk’s pass. ”Your best players have to be your best players.”
However, the Devils could not increase their lead. And it cost them when Hamonic’s slap shot goal 7:12 into the third tied the game at 1-1.
”Little bit of rust,” DeBoer said. ”Missed assignment. ”It doesn’t happen much.”
Clarkson broke the tie just 1:05 later when a screened shot from the half boards eluded Nabokov.
”Patty (Elias) made a great play,” Clarkson said. ”When you (work hard, you get) rewarded.”
Outside of Nabokov, John Tavares was New York’s best player. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 draft was able to skate and stickhandle through New Jersey’s defense, but the Devils clogged the middle of the ice limiting offensive chances.
”Usual game against Jersey. (They make things difficult),” Tavares said. ”(We) had to play in our own end. (The) forecheck has to be better.”
As a result, New York struggled to test Brodeur. His toughest saves occurred in the third period.
He sprawled onto the ice to take away a shooting lane from New York right wing Michael Grabner seconds into the third.
Later, he went out of the crease to take away a point-blank chance for Islanders left wing Matt Moulson, and his glove save on a Hamonic drive with 4:14 was New York’s best chance to tie.
”Marty made a really nice save,” Hamonic said. ”That has to be a goal.”
Note: Stefan Matteau, the 28th overall pick in last June’s draft made his NHL debut for the Devils. He was on the fourth line alongside Jacob Josefson and Cam Janssen.