NHL Picks and Predictions, Opening Night: New Jersey Devils at New York Islanders

By Mark Donatiello

The New Jersey Devils are fresh off an unexpected run to the Stanley Cup Final, but they enter this season with a plethora of concerns.  Martin Brodeur is another year older, ex-captain Zach Parise signed with the Minnesota Wild this offseason, and despite a similar looking roster this team has a completely different feel.

The New York Islanders return an aging goaltender of their own in Evgeni Nabokov, but the youth of this Islanders team will again determine if they can win.  While John Tavares continues to be one of the best young scorers in hockey, New York opens the season with long odds for a successful season.  The loss of P.A. Parenteau and limited top-level scoring options means a shaky defense will need to have a strong showing for the Isles to have a chance against the defending Eastern Conference champions.

Keys to the game:

The New Jersey Devils shocked division rivals in the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers on their playoff run last season.  Utilizing an intense forecheck, the Devils were able to grind their way past talented teams.  Most of the bottom lines that caused a lot of pressure and wore out opponents last season are back in New Jersey, but the top-line is reworked without Parise.  Can the New Jersey Devils keep last season’s momentum through the NHL lockout?  Without the skill and effort of Parise, will the four-line press of the Devils work as effectively this year?  The New York Islanders lack depth, and an aggressive Devils attack can wear them down.

While Travis Zajac was key to the New Jersey Devils’ success at the end of last season, an injury kept him out for most of the year.  With Zajac back in the lineup and healthy for a full season, look for the Devils to maintain a solid top six rotation, even without Parise, and have much more success in the face-off circle.  The Islanders defense can be suspect at times, and how they match up with New Jersey’s top line will be crucial – particularly in their efforts to slow down Ilya Kovalchuk.

Nabokov faded down the stretch last season and how effectively he returns from the lockout could decide this game.  Evgeni Nabokov is still capable of dominating a game for the Islanders and New York will need his best effort to keep this game tight.  If this becomes a battle of two veteran goaltenders, home ice could tilt this game in the Islanders’ favor.

Lastly, New Jersey will need to contain the Tavares line in order to have a chance at controlling the game.  The Devils are far from dominant offensively, and a crisp game will be key.  New Jersey has eight NHL-caliber defensemen on their roster, and their defensive depth could be an advantage in front of Martin Brodeur if they hold the top line of the New York Islanders in check.

Opening Night Pick and Prediction, New Jersey Devils (-120) at New York Islanders:

The New Jersey Devils are the better team and should be able to win this game.  Both teams have top-line talent, but the Devils have more depth and a better defense.  On the road, this won’t be easy; The Islanders always seem to play the Devils tough in this rivalry game.  Still, it’s impossible to ignore New Jersey’s advantages across the board in this match up.

New Jersey Devils 3 – New York Islanders 1

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