I started this post yesterday, never had the chance to get it posted. I know it’s almost irrelevant now that it’s two days old! Here it is anyway.
Hockey was definately back last night, but the Devils were certainly the better team – shutting out the Isles in typical NJ fashion.
In all fairness, the Devils roster featured marquee players with names like Brodeur, Elias, Zubrus, and the always ON Zach Parise, compared to lesser knowns Skinner, Fritz, Sugden, Hillen, MacLean, Colliton, Jackman, and MacDonald for the Islanders. It felt like the Isles would be doomed from the start.
It was slow going at first, not much flow – even the shot clock wasn’t working as it was clearly preseason for everyone in the arena. The ice girls were also shaking off the rust, the linesmen requested a shovel three times to clean up their mess after they did their thing. Once the teams began to open things up, the officials started the preseason crackdown on obstruction calling Streit twice, sandwiched around one by Witt. The Isles were finally given a powerplay of their own, only to give up a shorthanded goal to Parise. Not a great start to what is supposed to be a vastly improved powerplay. To steal a term from Ken Dick of Okposo Net, it was SOI or Same Old Islanders.
There were glimpses of good things to come – Tambellini looked great, as did his entire line including Nielsen and Hunter. Comrie was all over the place, although I commented to Tony of Islesnation that he still skates like he has a brick in his pants. Just my witty observation, but he was flying – even for Mike Comrie. Kyle Okposo continued to shine, being really strong on the puck and being flat out dominant in the corners. At one point he was leveled, naturally the enforcers wouldn’t accept those types of liberties on the younger players, so we saw three first period bouts.
Brandon Sugden continued to make his case for a roster spot, throwing a series of devastating rights at New Jersey’s Bryce Salvadore – where we saw what all the internet buzz on Brandon was all about. Tim Jackman challenged Sheldon Brookbank, they took a few moments to situate themselves but Jackman was eventually wrestled to the ground. Eight seconds later, the Islanders giant – Mitch Fritz threw down with the Devils Michael Rupp. Fritz landed several enormous right hands to Rupp’s face that made his legs wobble and the fight ended as the officials stepped in. Fritz triumphantly headed off the ice as the period was drawing to a close, to the cheers if the Islanders faithful.
The second period was OK, yes – just OK. More hitting, better passing and some offensive chances. Same as the third period – nothing really going offensively. The one thing that stuck out during both periods was the movement of the puck back to the blue line. The defense seemed very poised with the puck – although there wasn’t enough shooting. Shooting and the lack-there-of was a common theme throughout the game.
During Gordon’s post game interview he seemed very relaxed being it was only a pre-season game. He came into the room sans jacked and tie, something Ted Nolan never did. You could see the beads of sweat on Gordon’s forehead – almost as if he was flailing his arms during his post game speech. When asked what he thought, Gordon replied:
“I saw a lot of good things, because there are a lot of things that we can talk about tomorrow,” said Gordon. “This exhibition season’s for getting everyone on the same page so there’s a lot of things we cover in practice that game situations don’t bring up. The good part is that we want to make the mistakes now and we want to show the guys on tape that this is why we weren’t efficient in what we needed to do. For me, that’s an important part of the process. I thought we played tentative tonight, where we were supposed to have patience. It was very inconsistent from that side.”
He them quipped about there being “three different zones” to worry about in hockey, laughed and said “We have stuff to work on in each zone” – to the enjoyment of everyone in Room Six. Thankfully, there is ample opportunity before the season starts to fine tune the way the team works as a unit with the new system.
Never really seeing this “overspeed” system in person, I can tell that it will be effective when everyone is in position and doing their part. Lots of quick short passes on the rush, it seemed as if New Jersey couldn’t quite tell when and where plays would occur, the only thing was – the Islanders would misplay the puck because the passed would be a bit off or get snarled up in traffic. All the things a team shaking the rust off and learning a new system would experience.
During the interviews in the locker room, something stuck me as absolutely amazing. The maturity that Kyle Okposo gained from last year up until this season was astounding. Not only that, but his ability to deal with the press seemed better this year, as if the spotlight didn’t really bother him as it did last season. He answered Logan’s questions with ease – but the best part was how he answered them. He knows what he needs to do (likely in part because of Gordon and the veterans in the locker room), to me – I know Kyle will be successful in this league. He is going to have a great rookie season, even if the team doesn’t have as good of a season.