Barclays Center finally got their first ever NHL game with tonight's preseason game between the New Jersey Devils and the New York Islanders. It was supposed to happen last season, but the lockout threw out those plans. Unlike most preseason games, this one will live on through trivia. Yes, questions such as "Who had the first fight at Barclays Center?", "Who scored the first goal at Barclays Center?", "Who scored the first power play goal at Barclays Center?", and, most of all, "Who won the first game at Barclays Center?" were going to be answered tonight.
The answers to all of them all involve Devils. Cam Janssen and Justin Johnson threw down near the end of the game for the fight. Jacob Josefson scored the first goal of the game, smacking a loose puck just past a sprawling Evgeni Nabokov. Steve Bernier batted in a puck that launched into the air for a power play goal early in the third period. The New Jersey Devils won the first ever game at Barclays Center 3-0. Hello, Brooklyn.
I figured the Islanders would put out a strong lineup and they did. John Tavares and Matt Moulson were active and together again, with Pierre-Marc Bouchard joining them at wing. Josh Bailey, Frans Nielsen, and Kyle Okposo, who stood out on Thursday, were also in the lineup. Regulars from last season like Matt Martin and Casey Cizikas got minutes tonight. Their defense featured Andy MacDonald, Travis Hamonic, and Lubomir Visnovsky. Evgeni Nabokov started the game. This wasn't a lineup full of scrubs. They looked to attack and they were forced to by the score to press on the Devils. Yet, all of them could not solve Cory Schneider.
Cory Schneider remains perfect in the preseason. Five periods, 48 shots against, and no goals allowed. Five power plays against, none converted. 26 shots against tonight, 26 saves made. He absolutely robbed Moulson down low in the third period and it was one of those stops that made you think "I don't think they're going to beat him." They didn't. Those who hoped and/or felt Schneider would carry over his strong play from Vancouver were justified tonight. Some of his play with the puck outside of the net wasn't so great, but I suspect that'll get better. Stopping pucks is the job and he's taking care of business. He'll eventually be beaten but he's quickly convincing the Devils faithful that he's the man. Hopefully, the coaches recognize that in this coming season.
Tonight's game also saw a strong line up from the Devils. The defense returned to something like the first game with four vets and two younger players, Alex Urbom and Jon Merrill, and it showed at times. Mark Fayne, in particular, had some important stops and showed initiative to jump up on offense at times. Granted, his partner was Anton Volchenkov so better Fayne than him to do that. I can only pick out three forwards that likely won't be on this team in a week, and none of them were in the top six. Patrik Elias played in his first preseason game and he was simply great. He was in between Damien Brunner and Jacob Josefson and that line was New Jersey's best this evening. Brunner looked better than he did on Thursday (maybe enough to earn a contract?), Josefson looked stronger, but Elias put it all together with a beauty of a goal from that line and taking the shot that Bernier batted in for the PPG. Elias will be crucial to the team's success on offense in this coming season. Getting in tonight's game and playing like it's midseason allays those concerns about whether he can still be the straw that stirs the drink. Elias is still Elias.
Again, this result won't matter much but the performances do. So let's go over some aspects of the game I did and did not like.
- Overall, much, much better than Thursday's night game. That's plain as day to anyone who saw both.
- I really liked seeing the Devils attack with a 3-0 lead. The Isles were aggressive but the Devils kept them honest and nearly got a fourth goal on a few occasions. Sitting on a lead is worrisome to watch at best and blows up in your face at worse; I think it's better to keep the action going. The Devils did just that and I hope they can continue that in future games. Maybe not necessarily with a three-man forecheck at times, but whatever works.
- They didn't get on the board, but I liked what I saw of Travis Zajac, Dainius Zubrus, and Michael Ryder. Zubrus gave them a big body presence to fight for pucks and feed them to his linemates. I felt the combination worked well at times.
- I liked the power play they converted on for actually gaining the zone successfully after an early clear by the Isles. Josefson's goal came shortly after a power play ended so good on the Devils to maintain possession instead of risking a breakaway from the man in the box.
- I did and did not like the Devils penalty kill. I'm pleased with five successful kills, especially the first two where they only allowed one shot on net. Yet, I am not a fan of the fact that they had to kill five penalties. Guys, you're leading, you didn't need to foul.
- Some of the penalties, like the boarding calls Merrill and Urbom took in the third, weren't good ones to take. They were just poor decisions to slam Eric Boulton (Merrill's) and Moulson (Urbom's) into the wall. It is what it is.
- Merrill should have received a double minor for striking Okposo with a high stick and drawing blood. Somehow, the refs missed it entirely even though Okposo was writhing in pain over in the corner after the incident. Be easy, young Merrill.
- After 17 shots in the first two periods, I believe it took the Isles nearly eight minutes to get their first shot on net in the third period. That's always pleasing from a Devils perspective.
- I really liked the video stream the Islanders had on their website. I'm sorry to hear that not everyone could access it, but the quality was good and the view from the middle of the section was quite good. The commentators - I didn't catch their names - kept praising the Barclays Center over and over. I wasn't put off by it, they did have to sell the venue along with calling the game. Plus, it's not like the Isles gave them a whole lot to discuss in the third period. Anyway, good on the Isles to have a video stream. Let's hope the Devils or their opponents on Monday and Tuesday can provide something similar.
- I am still confused as to A) why Ryan Carter and Travis Hamonic fought at the end of the game and B) how Matt Martin got a game misconduct. For A, I suspect it's a beef of sorts plus frustration from Hamonic. For B, I really don't know.
- I really don't like the fact that a boxscore with associated stats are available as of this writing at NHL.com. I would have liked to see exactly how many shots were taken and by who. I noticed Adam Larsson unloaded a few and I'm curious as to how many Merrill got. I'd also would've liked to know who on the Isles threatened the most in terms of attempts; though I would guess it was the Moulson-Tavares-Bouchard unit. The goals were Josefson (Volchenkov, Brunner); Elias (Brunner, Josefson); and Bernier (Elias, Zajac) and Elias' was the prettiest of them all.
- Again, it's preseason, but good on the Devils to play spoiler for the Isles' big night. Much better than Thursday's performance, albeit with a stronger lineup. Two road preseason games loom in the distance and I suspect they'll decide who makes the 23-man roster so the Devils use their final home game as a tune-up for the real thing in October.
So that's my take on tonight's game. For an opposition's take, here's Dominik's recap at Lighthouse Hockey which includes plenty of Twitter reactions and photos of the arena. If you went to tonight's game, then please let us know of your experience in a FanPost or leave a shortened version in the comments. What did you think of the Devils performance? Who do you think looked good or looked bad? Did anyone help their cause for making the team tonight? Please leave your answers and other thoughts in the comments. Thank you for reading.