DEVILS 2, ISLANDERS 1 — Slow, Sloppy Post-Lockout Hockey

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Kevin Schultz

UNIONDALE, NY — Hockey’s back and fans packed the Nassau Coliseum tonight for its return. The Islanders sold out all 16,170 seats at the Coliseum, which are a few less than normal thanks to new lower bowl seating installed over the break.

On the ice, the Islanders came up short giving up the game winning goal to New Jersey’s David Clarkson nearly halfway through the third period. Clarkson’s shot from the top of the circle beat goalie Evgeni Nabokov along the ice. It seemed as though Nabokov was screened by a Devil and his two defenders in front of him. It was the kind of night where both teams looked out of sorts and sluggish.

Some players were in mid-season form thanks to having played in Europe or the AHL during the lockout and others playing in their first games since April, looked the part. On both sides passes weren’t quite where they should be, some players didn’t have extra jump and others were out of position more than you might usually expect.

On the Islanders’ lone goal, the entire Devils defense was out of position.

“We watched some video and… we felt that they liked to cover the wall,” said Travis Hamonic, who had the lone Islander tally. About a minute before Clarkson’s game winning goal the Islanders were on the power play and all four of New Jersey’s penalty killers converged on a scrum in the corner. The Isles’ Michael Grabner was able to get the puck loose, and found Hamonic all alone in front of the Devils’ net. Hamonic took his time and buried the puck to ignite a Coliseum crowd that had been waiting for such a moment all night. Nonetheless, Hamonic wasn’t happy with the end result.

“It pisses me off,” he responded when asked about how close the team came but still found themselves on the losing end. “We were close but we weren’t close enough tonight.”

Making things tough on both teams was a one-week training camp; a small amount of time to get prepared, put together lines and find the right combinations. To add to it, the Islanders picked up a few players off waivers during the week. Of those players, Keith Aucoin, Brian Strait, and Joe Finley all were in the lineup tonight.

The Islanders will play a matinee Monday at the Coliseum against the Lightning before heading out on a five-game road trip. When asked about who would start in net Monday, assistant coach Doug Weight wouldn’t name names. Evgeni Nabokov, who hadn’t played on any pro team during the lockout looked solid and made 28 saves in net for the Islanders.

“We’re gonna talk to a couple guys,” Weight told the media. “We’ll talk it over and figure it out. Hopefully we’ll know tomorrow. There’s gonna be things to think about for a lot of teams. It’s gonna be a tough year with the road they have to haul in the nets and the minutes people are going to play.”

Weight was filling in for head coach Jack Capuano, who missed the game due to kidney stones.

NOTES: Weight on new defender Brian Strait: “I’ve been impressed by him for a long time. This year we got to see him play a lot [at Bridgeport]… Very cerebral back there, moves very well, is tough, physical… I really expect him to be an NHL defenseman. I don’t want to claim myself as a scout but just watching him play, his attitude, meeting him, I’m excited about his future.”

Strait spent the game paired with Mark Streit — confusing, to be sure — and did play well in his Islander debut.

PLUSES: Michael Grabner, John Tavares, David Ullstrom, Evgeni Nabokov all appear to be in mid-season form. The latter didn’t have a lockout team to play with. Grabner, for my money, was the best Islander on the ice…

MINUSES: Post-lockout hockey is sloppy and not as smooth as usual. We’ll have to see how long it takes that to work itself out… Keith Aucoin got kicked out of at least three faceoffs tonight, kind of odd for a center… Mark Streit looked a step behind and was when he took a holding penalty early in the third… Carkner and Finley, while adding great size to the blueline, are slow to have together. I’d hope to see Thomas Hickey slide into Finley’s spot on Monday afternoon… Casey Cizikas was a healthy scratch. You would hope that he’ll get in the lineup too, otherwise giving him minutes in Bridgeport is the better idea…