Travis Hamonic scored the New York Islanders’ first goal of the season to knot the game at 1-1 in the third period, but the New Jersey Devils responded quickly and held on for a 2-1 final in front of a sellout crowd of 16,170 at Nassau Coliseum. Islanders goaltender Evgeni Nabokov made 26 saves on 28 shots in the 2012-13 season opener.
Travis Zajac and David Clarkson scored for the Devils, who needed 18 saves from goaltender Martin Brodeur.
The Islanders were trailing 1-0 in the third period, when forward Brad Boyes drew a hooking minor on New Jersey defenseman Henrik Tallinder. During the ensuing man advantage, Michael Grabner found Hamonic in the slot with a centering feed from the right wing boards. The Islanders defenseman had all day to shoot, and lifted the puck short side over Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur’s glove at 7:12, evening the score.
“We watched some video, and noticed they like to cover the wall a bit,” Hamonic said. “Grabby made a great play and I just tried to find some open ice and he found me in the right spot. It was nice to capitalize on that one.”
Just one minute later, however, the Devils re-gained their lead. Clarkson took a feed from Patrik Elias at the right point and wristed a shot through traffic and in.
Nabokov took the loss, but Islanders Assistant Coach Doug Weight credited his goaltender for keeping the team in the game.
“Nabby looked in control tonight,” Weight said. “I’ve played a lot of hockey against Evgeni. He’s a confident individual. He brings it every night and I knew he’d have a good game tonight. He looked quick and agile. I think he was a little screened on that second one. That was a tough break.”
Before the game, the Islanders announced that Head Coach Jack Capuano would not be behind the bench due to medical reasons. It marked just the second time in Capuano’s tenure as Head Coach that he missed a game. During the game, Weight managed the forward lines, while Assistant Coach Brent Thompson monitored the defensive pairings.
The action was controlled in the neutral zone for most of the first period. The Islanders were outshot 9-3 in the opening frame, not managing their first official shot until Michael Grabner’s wrist shot 11 minutes in.
After the game, Islanders center John Tavares reflected on the team’s lack of scoring chances.
“New Jersey always plays tough and they always make things difficult, especially offensively,” Tavares said. “They went up and we spent a lot of energy trying to generate chances and weren’t successful. It’s tough to win when we can’t create enough momentum to sustain them in their own end and wear them down a bit.”
The Devils drew first blood 14:01 into the second period when Ilya Kovalchuk and Travis Zajac entered the zone on a 2-on-1. Kovalchuk lifted a pass over a sprawling Islanders defender and Zajac one-timed the feed past Nabokov.
Grabner has some of the Islanders’ best offensive opportunities, including a series in the opening minute of the third period when he almost tied the score. Grabner found the puck in the slot and deked to Brodeur’s glove side, sliding the puck under Brodeur, but the netminder’s paddle found the puck before it trickled across the goal line.
Nabokov was pulled for the extra skater with 1:07 remaining. Weight called timeout with 46.7 seconds left, but the Islanders were unable to even the score.
The Islanders will practice Sunday morning before the Tampa Bay Lightning come to Nassau Coliseum Monday. Puck drop is slated for 1:00 p.m.
New York Islanders:
20 Evgeni Nabokov (starter)