Preseason is in the books, and the next time the Islanders hit the ice will be game day.
The team had a spirited practice Thursday before loading gear onto the truck headed to Newark tonight. Following eight exhibition games and three straight days of practice, head coach Jack Capuano is looking forward to seeing his group in a game that counts toward the standings.
“It's a good feeling,” Capuano said. “Our guys worked extremely hard during training camp. We got a lot of work in special teams this week, which we needed. I know the guys are excited to go. It's going to be a little different intensity. You can feel it in practice. They’re ready to go tomorrow.”
Captain John Tavares believes the team is as prepared as they can be for Friday’s opener.
“We had a little bit of a lighter skate today, but two tough ones earlier in the week so we're ready to get in the flow of things, playing games that matter again,” Tavares said. “I'm sure the energy and intensity will be really high tomorrow. It'll be a fast pace. It's hopefully something we can thrive off of.”
All 82 games on the schedule are worth two points, but the players may feel a little extra adrenaline kicking in against a Devils squad they went 3-2-0 against last season. The cross-town rivals have even more recent history, splitting two head-to-head preseason matchups. Beginning the season with an intense rivalry game is something that defenseman Brian Strait is looking forward to.
“Any time it's a division rival and a team that you have history with and you play a lot, you always want to bring your best and earn those points,” Strait said. “They're in our conference so it's crucial every time we play them.”
The Islanders hope to improve on last season’s eighth place finish and compete deep into the postseason. With so much of the core returning from last season’s team, and with summer acquisitions like Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Peter Regin, who have proven themselves to be valuable contributors in the NHL, there’s a good feeling in the Islanders room right now. Still, optimistic defenseman Travis Hamonic knows the ride over the next six-plus months won’t be smooth the whole way.
“Our quest starts tomorrow night and we're excited to get it going,” Hamonic said. “Unfortunately it's been a long summer and a long training camp, but it's nice be at this point. We're excited for the ride this year. It's up and it's down. You hope that you've done the right work in the summer to prepare for it.”
Puck drop from Prudential Center is set for 7:00 p.m. The Islanders have a quick turnaround before their home opener the next night, Saturday, Oct. 5 at 7:00 p.m. against Columbus.
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