Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Around The Horn: Isles, Devils get first wins

Twenty-four hours later, I'm sure panic has been replaced by calm for both Islander and Devil supporters, whose teams each posted their first wins of the new season on Columbus Day. Ironically, the old Patrick rivals each hosted special Columbus matinees at 1 and got the desired result that disappointed fans had anticipated on Saturday. Both clubs were flat in their season debuts each getting shutout. Something you rarely see. How often do two locals open up without scoring even a goal? We'll bet it hasn't happened much if ever.

The Islanders and Devils each responded with stronger performances yesterday. On Long Island, Jack Capuano's bunch made two early goals stand up in a 2-1 win over Minnesota while in Newark, new captain Zach Parise's first two goals along with Ilya Kovalchuk's game decider pushed the Devs past Carolina 4-2- earning new coach Pete DeBoer his first win.

"Winning is always good. It's always a good feeling," noted Parise, who notched his first two goals since last Oct.23, 2010. "I just think you can tell tonight was just a better team effort for us. We were hungry on the puck. We were winning a lot more battles, and by doing that we were able to get a lot more offensive zone time. You can tell when we're playing well, we're doing things right: Our D are jumping in at the right time, our forwards are covering for the D. We're not throwing the puck away. If we can identify that that's when we have all our pressure, we'll be all right."

Twice, the Canes rallied from one-goal deficits to make it anyone's contest after two. Following Parise's first of the season from reunited Czechs Patrik Elias and Petr Sykora, Carolina used a relentless forecheck to draw even when ex-Leaf Alexei Ponikarovsky deflected a Tim Gleason shot off Andy Greene past Johan Hedberg. DeBoer's club quickly replied 40 seconds later when Kovalchuk set up Mark Fayne's first. Undeterred, the Hurricanes tied it again on a fluky Chad LaRose shot from the right circle that fooled Hedberg. Before the period concluded, a Kovalchuk gaffe nearly beat his own goalie when an attacking Cane reached in with the Russian dangerously close to Hedberg. But his long-time 'mate from Atlanta was alert, allowing fans to relax.

Kovalchuk made sure to put the puck in the right net when he cashed his own rebound off a nice combination from Jacob Josefson and Nick Palmeiri. Parise's empty netter salted it away. The stars were the Devs' best players with Parise netting two goals, Kovalchuk finishing with a goal and two helpers while Elias and Sykora each added an assist. Palmeiri also had two helpers and Hedberg made 24 saves.

The Islanders used two first period tallies from Andrew MacDonald (PPG) and Frans Nielsen to even up their record at 1-1. MacDonald slammed home a Travis Hamonic rebound that caromed out to put the Isles on the board. A couple of minutes later, a brilliant pass from new captain Mark Streit allowed Nielsen to neatly deflect home his first. It was the kind of vision that the club missed last year from Streit, who made a great read from the left point, finding Nielsen all alone for what turned out to be the game-winner.

Capuano had to like what he saw from Al Montoya, who made his second consecutive start. The former Ranger No.1 pick was sharp making 20 saves, including a couple of sparklers late in the second when the Wild applied pressure. One-time Blueshirt Matt Cullen broke up the shutout 73 seconds into the third when he beat Montoya high glove thanks to a nice set up from Guillaume Latendresse. A couple of minutes later, Montoya denied new Wild Dany Heatley in front to preserve the lead. The Islander D did the rest, standing up to Minny's tactics, to earn their first 'W.'

"We kept it pretty simple in the first period," pointed out Streit. "We advanced the puck in straight lines, we got it deep and we went to work. That's how we're going to be successful, and we got away from that in the second and third periods. We did what we can't do. … We have to make sure that doesn't happen again."
The Islanders and Devils each have two days off before returning to action. The Isles host Tampa Bay and the Devs take on the Kings, fresh from their Euro invasion on Thursday. The other New York teams who participated overseas play later this week with undefeated Buffalo (2-0-0) hosting the Canes while the winless Rangers (0-0-2) visit Nassau County Saturday.

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