The time has finally come. The start of the 2013-14 NHL season has arrived, and for the New York Islanders the 82 game marathon starts tonight at the Prudential Center, as they take on the New Jersey Devils in the first game of the year. With a full season at hand, it’s known to all on the team that they will have to work hard every night for points in a tough Eastern Conference.
Going into tonight’s opener, the players feel a little extra kick. Why? Because they know they have a good chance against the Devils. The Islanders took three of the five meetings between the two clubs last year and split the two head-to-head preseason matchups. So as it looks right now, tonight’s opener seems to be on the side of the Islanders.
Coming into tonight’s game, the Devils are going to come out hungry after getting shut out 3-0 by the Pittsburgh Penguins last night in Pittsburgh. This is something that the Islanders have to be aware of. New Jersey is going to come out hard, leaving the Islanders’ forwards to be on top of their game.
Physical play is going to be important for the Islanders tonight. Matt Martin and Eric Boulton are going to have to make an impact, and both guys will. Not having Cal Clutterbuck in the lineup due to injury throws a bit of a monkey wrench into the Islanders’ plans, but they can easily work around it, both tonight and for at least the first two weeks of the season.
There’s more to it than that. The Islanders want to be a success again in the league this year. This club really wants to improve on their performance last year, which as we all know was making the playoffs for the first time in six years. With so much of the core returning from last season’s team along with summer acquisitions like Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Peter Regin who have proven to be valuable contributors in the NHL, there’s a good feeling in the Islanders’ room right now.
There’s a lot of talent on this young hockey club. With John Tavares taking over as Captain, they have their guy to be able to lead this team in the future. What’s going to be key for the Islanders to get back to the playoffs is goaltending. If Evgeni Nabokov can play his game and backup Kevin Poulin can fill in nicely to give Nabokov a few more nights off this year, the Islanders will be back in the playoffs again come springtime.
It’s going to be an uphill battle to make it to postseason hockey. The Islanders have the talent to get there, and the journey to the promised land starts tonight in New Jersey.