Talking Red

Game 1: Devils Deny Isles In Opener

Posted in on by Dan Pennucci

By Dan Pennucci

For the Devils, games against the Islanders are always a bit nervewracking. The Devils have struggled against the Isles in the past and the Islanders’ netminders, Rick DiPietro specifically, usually give the Devils fits.

Saturday night’s 2-1 win over their Atlantic Division rivals at the NHL’s most ancient arena was a solid display of defensive hockey as the Devils kicked off the truncated season with a victory heading into Tuesday’s clash with Philadelphia. David Clarkson’s deceptive wrist shot from the top of the right circle at 8:17 of the third period past Evgeni Nabokov broke a 1-1 tie as the Devils weathered several late attacks from the Islanders sparked by the dynamic John Tavares.

Martin Brodeur looked spry and well-rested, turning aside all but a wide-open wrist shot from the low slot deposited by Isles defenseman Travis Hamonic moments before Clarkson’s winner. In all, Brodeur stopped 19 shots including denying Hamonic again late in the game with a slick glove save. Travis Zajac kicked off the season’s scoring for New Jersey late in the second period off a perfect pass from Ilya Kovalchuk, who was sprung thanks to a great outlet from defender Henrik Tallinder.

Much of the buzz surrounding New Jersey’s play Saturday night centered around last June’s first round pick, rookie Stefan Matteau. Yes, that Matteau, as in the son of Stephane, scorer of the Rangers’ winning goal in the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals. Regardless of the history associated with the last name, Stefan did much to ingratiate himself to the team’s fan base, and his teammates, to help erase the connotation of the name “Matteau.” 18-years old and owner of 28 points in 34 games in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Matteau made an impact on his first shift, buzzing around the offensive zone and firing several pucks that caught Nabokov off guard. He skated hard and generated energy with linemates Cam Janssen and Jacob Josefson.

Matteau looks to have the skills of more than a fourth-line winger in his repertoire and it will be interesting to see if the Devils will return him to juniors if he has four more games like he played on Saturday.  (NHL teams have five games to decide if they will return a junior player back to his squad or it will count as a full year off their entry-level contract.)

Matteau showed the Devils have a solid future, but Mattias Tedenby appeared to be a better player in several shifts and the same inconsistent, yet potential-laden winger, in others. He seemed to mesh well with Patrik Elias and Clarkson, but blowing a first-period breakaway chance high after having Nabokov beat is something Devils’ fans have seen from Tedenby before. The Devils will need Tedenby to be consistent this season if the team hopes to have a balance in scoring.

Both teams looked sloppy at times, and the same can be said for the Devils attack on the evening.  There were not many clean looks on goal and it’s clear players are still getting their legs. The power-play unit appears to still be gelling and figuring out new assistant coach Matt Shaw’s system, which, according to the Bergen Record’s Tom Gulitti, will focus on shooting and moving more. The two power play chances saw Ilya Kovalchuk log all four minutes and the team only generated a handful of chances.

A win to open the season is always a positive, but the Devils can expect a bit more pressure on Tuesday night from the Flyers, a team centered around aggressive physical play and an inability to solve the Devils’ forecheck, as demonstrated by New Jersey’s second round playoff victory last spring.

The questions looming for the Devils heading into next week’s slate of games is how will the team adapt offensively, along with every other team in the league, and can they play with energy on the forecheck like coach Peter DeBoer will be expecting.

Follow Dan Pennucci on Twitter @dpennucci

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