You could say "Same old Isles" about Saturday night's 2-1 loss to the Devils to open the truncated 2013 season.
It's the fifth consecutive year the Islanders have failed to grab two points in their opener. The scoring problems that plagued the team last season held over to this late start following the 113-day lockout, with Travis Hamonic's power-play goal 7:12 into the third their only tally.
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But there were signs of something different. More aggressive play over the final two periods against the typically stifling Devils, chances generated from beyond just John Tavares' line and an advantage in the faceoff circle that has long been missing.
Of course, it's still a loss, and there are plenty of ready-made excuses: the first game in nine months, following a one-week training camp and with the late scratch of coach Jack Capuano, who went to the emergency room barely an hour before puck drop to deal with kidney stones and missed the game.
"We can't be making excuses in here," Hamonic said. "Maybe we have in the past. But as far as I'm concerned, that's not going to fly in here this year. Everyone's in the same position to start, and we just have to be more mentally ready to play from the start."
But just 65 seconds later, the big contingent of Devils fans took over when David Clarkson's wrist shot skittered along the ice, ticked off Isles defenseman Brian Strait's skate and between Evgeni Nabokov's legs.
"I see him wind it up and I lost it a little bit at the end," said Nabokov, who was otherwise superb in making 26 saves. "Regardless of a deflection or not, I have to battle through that traffic."
The Isles' sloppy start, with just three shots on Marty Brodeur in the opening 20 minutes and a handful of giveaways, didn't hurt them, but it did give them some pause -- after a fifth straight season out of the playoffs and then a four-month lockout, this was not the way to come out in a 48-game season.
"A little jittery," said assistant coach Doug Weight, who took over for Capuano for the night. "That was a little disappointing. There was enough energy, maybe a little too much."
And the Devils are still the Devils, despite the departure of Zach Parise.
They waited for room to strike and found loads of it in the second period off an Isles-zone draw; looking to match Tavares' line against Ilya Kovalchuk's, the Isles tried to go for a wholesale change but didn't get the puck deep enough. Kovalchuk led a three-on-one and fed Travis Zajac for the opening goal at 14:01 of the second.
But the Islanders plugged away, getting effective games from depth forwards such as David Ullstrom, who stuck his nose in Brodeur's face often, and newcomers Brad Boyes and Keith Aucoin, the latter winning eight of 10 faceoffs and keeping the puck in the Devils' zone for long stretches.
It wasn't enough, which was familiar. But there was more than meets the eye for the final 40 minutes.
"We got better as it went on," Andrew MacDonald said. "That was encouraging. But we have to be better."