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Game 1 recap: Isles lose to Devils, 2-1
With a little time to reflect and review, here are some thoughts on the Isles’ 2-1 loss to the Devils in Saturday’s opener:
-- I still say there was more to like than dislike last night. The first period was brutal, but the Isles dictated most of the play in the second and third periods. The Devils are the Devils, as they seemingly always will be -- consistent, relatively passive and able to pounce on any mistake -- and the Isles weren’t ready for that consistency at the start, then they couldn’t generate enough at the finish.
In between, though, the Isles had some good moments. Almost none of them came from the Matt Moulson-John Tavares-Kyle Okposo line, and Okposo in particular was not sharp. Stuck along the wall, fighting pucks and generally too slow to keep up with Tavares. Can’t continue that way.
-- The best forwards for the Isles? Michael Grabner, David Ullstrom and Keith Aucoin. What did they have in common? They all used their speed and headed towards the Devils net at every opportunity.
I heard an interesting theory about post-lockout play in the last couple days. Instead of figuring out who played where and whether that would help, it was more about the good skaters vs. the ones who don’t skate as well. If you have the natural skating ability and stride, you can do more at the start than the guys who have to get their skating legs under them.
That was evident for the Isles last night. Grabner used his speed, Ullstrom used his. Okposo and Matt Moulson weren’t as sharp and they’re not the skaters the other two are.
-- That theory doesn’t account for Mark Streit, who struggled mightily last night. He tried to break up a dump-in at the blue line, failed, and David Clarkson scored off the broken play to provide the winning goal. Streit did well on the power play, but his five-on-five work was rough.
His new partner, Brian Strait, did some good things, certainly enough to stay in the lineup. Jack Capuano and Brent Thompson, two Isles coaches who know the AHL well, spent the bulk of the lockout scouting that league, looking for potential waiver claims who could shore up the Isles’ thin defense. Strait, claimed on Friday, was one of their targets, and he looked capable and physical in 15:48.
Matt Carkner and Joe Finley kept things simple, and Andrew MacDonald and Travis Hamonic got better with ice time as the game went on. Nice PPG for Hamonic as well -- he wants to be an all-phases player this year, and scoring goals will help get him there.
-- Evgeni Nabokov looked sharp and he will likely get another start on Monday against the Lightning. Tampa is far more high-powered an offense than the Devils, which will test the Isles further, but Nabokov will get another crack.
-- The Isles were 30-21 in the faceoff circle, led by Aucoin (8-2). No Isles center was under 50 percent. Big improvement, for a night at least, over last season.
-- Still the scoring woes. Tavares’ line will be better on Monday, but the depth lines have to convert the chances they created.