The defending Eastern Conference champion New Jersey Devils will kick off the new season on Long Island, as they visit the New York Islanders for Saturday's contest at Nassau Coliseum.
Even though the Devils were a 102-point team during the 2011-12 regular season it was still surprising to see the sixth-seeded club make a run to the Cup Finals before bowing out to the Los Angeles Kings.
Peter DeBoer, who was in his first season as Jersey's head coach, deserves a great deal of credit for last spring's success, but an encore performance could prove difficult without former captain Zach Parise in the fold. Parise opted to sign a lucrative 13-year contract with Minnesota in the offseason, leaving a big hole in New Jersey's offense. The Devils still have sniper Ilya Kovalchuk in tow, and the Russian sniper is coming off a season in which he led Jersey in both goals (37) and points (83).
"Our guys are ready to go," DeBoer said. "They're hungry. They got a good taste of it last year, and I think when you get a taste of it, you want to get back and get the whole thing."
After losing his captain, Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello said, "You don't replace a Zach Parise -- you just don't do that." Although the Devils were unable to replace Parise's production, the club did hand over his "C" to defenseman Bryce Salvador.
Martin Brodeur will start his 18th straight season opener in net for New Jersey, extending his NHL record. At 40 years of age, the Devils still rely heavily on Brodeur to be the team's best player.
"This is where you start your journey," Brodeur said of the season opener. "It's going to start (Saturday) night. The journey is to try to get ourselves into the playoffs first, and after that, challenging for a Stanley Cup. It's always special to start the season, regardless of it's a shortened season or any kind of season."
Unfortunately the Devils will have to start this season's journey without Adam Henrique, who was a big part of New Jersey's success last year as a rookie. A finalist for the Calder Trophy, Henrique posted 16 goals and 51 points in 74 games, but is sidelined indefinitely with a thumb injury.
While the Devils were on a run to the Stanley Cup Finals last spring, the Islanders were watching the postseason from home for a fifth straight year. Making matters worse, the 2011-12 campaign also was New York's fifth consecutive year at the bottom of the Atlantic Division standings.
The Islanders are led by John Tavares, one of the best young playmaking centers in the league, but the club doesn't have much else to brag about. New York GM Garth Snow tried to add a talented offensive defenseman in Lubomir Visnovsky in a trade with Anaheim during the offseason, but the Slovakian has yet to report to the club and has been suspended by the team.
Visnovsky filed a grievance with the NHLPA to void the trade that sent him from the Ducks to Long Island, but an arbitrator upheld the deal. Visnovsky tried to stay in Europe with the KHL's Slovan Bratislava, but the Russian league will not let him since the lockout is over and he's under contract to play in the NHL. It's an ongoing saga, but there remains a glimmer of hope that Visnovsky will skate with the Islanders at some point this season, although that time won't be on Saturday night.
The Islanders only have three seasons left in Nassau Coliseum, the much- maligned building that his been the team's home since it entered the NHL in 1972. The Isles finally landed a home when they announced a few months ago that the franchise will move to Brooklyn for the 2015-16 season.
New York was 17-18-6 at the Coliseum in 2011-12 while the Devils went 24-15-2 on the road.
New Jersey won four of its six meetings against the Isles last season and has taken eight of 10 overall in this series.