Is that Eric Boulton's music? - Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
The standings look all weird, which means it must still be
That is not merely a statement on the quality of tonight's teams, who faceoff with the winner exiting in first place in the Atlantic Division. It's also a reflection on patently unsustainable things like the Islanders scoring 3.67 goals per game, or the Devils conceding only 1.6.
The 95% penalty kill rate maintained by Boston, Chicago, and the Isles, is also impressive but of course cannot last. Nor will the 30%+ powerplay conversion rates shared by six teams, including the Isles, Sharks, Blues, and those western orange-and-blue Oilers.
So tonight we see two teams that surely don't belong 1-2 in the division -- last year's Cup finals run be damned, er, bedeviled -- yet have benefited from big wins over other Atlantic rivals. New Jersey dumped the Flyers 3-0, the Isles are fresh off thumping the Penguins 4-1.
As has been their pattern, the Devils have progressed so far thanks to strong top-six play (Patrik Elias' youth potion is still working), disciplined structure under Peter DeBoer, and -- at least in the Islanders' home opener -- the complete inability of the opponent to try something new. The Devils have kept teams to 26.2 shots per game, third-best in the league and oh, just about six shots fewer than what the Isles have allowed.
It's all early, and it's all great fun this time of year (well, this time of lockout years, I guess), because we all have our preseason perceptions and our brief-season observations and not much of anything has been defined yet: John Tavares and Matt Moulson are still Tavares and Moulson. Frans Nielsen and Michael Grabner are still Frans and Gremlin. The waiver-wire binge appears to have improved the bottom half of the blueline, and Keith Aucoin appears to have improved the secondary scoring options.
Beyond that, we don't know. (Nor, it goes without saying, does Mike Milbury or Jeremy Roenick, ye gods.)
Enjoy it, whatever it is, while it's now.
As expected, Eric Boulton fills in for the ssuspendedd Colin McDonald, Evgeni Nabokov gets the start, and Newsday's Arthur Staple reports the D remains the same and Casey Cizikas will be in McDonald's slot next to Aucoin and David Ullstrom.
The Devils will see Adam Henrique return from injury and Adam Larsson return from press box internship. Apparently Cam Janssen is not in the lineup (in fact he's on waivers), so look for even less activity from Boulton.
Via Newsday, Nielsen reflects a mentality the Islanders seem to have through a run of recent frustration against DeBoer's Devils:
"It's important you don't get frustrated playing those guys," Frans Nielsen said after the Islanders' practice Wednesday at IceWorks. "We can't get down or be surprised if we've only got, like, 12 shots on goal after two periods. We have to wait for our chances."
Wait, maybe, but don't wait too long.