(SportsNetwork.com) - The New York Islanders are out to prove themselves playoff worthy once again in 2013-14, and the club hopes to get its new season off to a strong start when it visits the rival New Jersey Devils in Friday's Metropolitan Division clash at Prudential Center.
Thanks in large part to the contributions of the ever-improving John Tavares, the Islanders ended a five-season playoff drought last spring. Although the Islanders bowed out to the heavily-favored Pittsburgh Penguins in six games, extending the franchise's streak of losing playoff series to seven, there seems to be good things on the horizon.
After an 81-point season in 2011-12, Tavares continued to make strides in 2013 and the centerman wound up as one of three finalists for the Hart Trophy in the lockout-shortened campaign. The 22-year-old Tavares recorded a career-best 31 goals in 2011-12, but he was even more dangerous last season when he tallied 28 times in just 48 contests. The first overall pick of the 2009 draft also has a knack for making those around him better and nobody knows that more than left winger Matt Moulson, who had 30 or more goals in his first three years playing to the left of Tavares and had 44 points (15G, 29A) in 47 games last season.
Tavares has an added responsibility this season, as he takes over the captain role from defenseman Mark Streit, who left over the offseason to sign with Philadelphia.
The Isles opted not to re-sign right winger Brad Boyes after he notched 10 goals and 25 assists while primarily playing on the top line in 2013. New York hopes Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who signed a one-year, $2 million deal with the Isles this summer, can be even more productive playing a secondary scoring role for New York.
New York head coach Jack Capuano will not have physical forward Cal Clutterbuck at his disposal in the opener, as the former Minnesota Wild pest will miss at least the first month of the season after suffering a laceration to his leg in the preseason. Clutterbuck was acquired for forward prospect Nino Niederreiter in a summer trade with Minnesota, a move designed to make the Isles a tougher team to play against.
To the surprise of very few people, the Islanders also used a compliance buyout this offseason to wipe out Rick DiPietro's salary-cap hit. DiPietro was a former No. 1 overall pick and signed an infamous 15-year, $67.5 million contract with New York prior to the 2006-07 season. Of course, it was all downhill after that as injuries and poor play derailed DiPietro's career and the Isles were left with an albatross of a contract around their necks.
With the DiPietro fiasco in the past, the Isles head into 2013-14 with steady veteran Evgeni Nabokov installed as the club's No. 1 netminder. Nabokov, 38, had a terrific season with New York in 2013, going 23-11-7 with a 2.50 goals against average, .910 save percentage and three shutouts and is ready to in the season opener.
The Devils, meanwhile, will try to rebound from Thursday's season-opening loss in Pittsburgh. New Jersey did little to prove it could get along offensively without Ilya Kovalchuk, as the club was blanked in the 3-0 setback to the Pens.
Marc-Andre Fleury stopped all 27 shots sent his way by the Devils, who lost their most dangerous offensive weapon when Kovalchuk announced his retirement from the NHL this past summer.
Cory Schneider, who was acquired in a deal with Vancouver at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, made his Devils debut between the pipes and surrendered three goals on 21 shots.
"They were the better team in the first period and that was the game," said New Jersey head coach Peter DeBoer. "If this was later in the season I think we would have stood a chance of coming back, but we just didn't have anything going tonight."
With Schneider getting the call on Thursday, Martin Brodeur had his NHL record streak of starting 18 straight season openers in net broken, but the future Hall of Fame netminder will make his first start of the campaign on Friday.
After Thursday's home opener, New Jersey will head out on a five-game road trip, beginning with Monday's test in Edmonton.
The Islanders won three of five meetings against the Devils last season and have taken two straight at the Prudential Center. The clubs have split the last 10 meetings overall.