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Clarkson nets game-winner as Devils edge Islanders

The SportsXchange

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- The New Jersey Devils began their run as one of the NHL's most dominant teams during the last lockout-shortened season. Eighteen years later, the Devils are still playing the same efficient and collective type of hockey that's defined their generation of success.

David Clarkson scored the tie-breaking goal with 11:43 left in the third period as the reigning Eastern Conference champion Devils edged the New York Islanders, 2-1, in the season opener for both teams Saturday night.

Travis Zajac, who had just two goals in 15 games during an injury-plagued 2011-12, scored the first goal of the game for the Devils, who lost to the Los Angeles Kings in six games in last year's Stanley Cup Finals. The Devils have reached the Finals five times since the 1995 season and have won it all three times, second-most in that span behind only the Detroit Red Wings.

The Devils also played impressive defense Saturday in front of goaltender Martin Brodeur, who began his 20th NHL season by recording 18 saves as the Devils improved to 18-8-4 in season openers since moving to New Jersey in 1982.

"We're going to score by committee, we're going to have low-scoring games, we're going to have to take care of our own end," Devils head coach Peter DeBoer said. "I liked the fact we didn't give up more than 20 shots tonight."

DeBoer also liked the commitment the Devils showed during the 119-day lockout and the focus and improved conditioning they displayed during last week's abbreviated training camp.

"I think that the work the guys put in while we were off paid off tonight," DeBoer said. "They came in in great shape. I thought we had a real good camp. That probably allowed us to get two points tonight."

The Islanders, who are trying to snap a streak of five straight last-place finishes in the Atlantic Division, lost their season opener for the fifth straight season.

Assistant coach and senior adviser to the general manager Doug Weight coached the Islanders Saturday in place of head coach Jack Capuano, who missed the game due to medical reasons. Newsday reported he was suffering from kidney stones.

Clarkson, who scored a career-high 30 goals last year -- more than he'd scored in any two seasons in his first four-plus NHL seasons -- scored just 65 seconds after the Islanders' Travis Hamonic tied it with a power play goal.

The sellout crowd of 16,170 was still cheering Hamonic's tally when Clarkson's slap shot threaded the needle between teammate Patrik Elias as well as the Islanders' Brian Strait and Mark Streit and flew past goalie Evgeni Nabokov (26 saves).

"I think this team's always built on not just one or two guys putting the puck in the net," Clarkson said. "It's always a team (where) we find a way to be successful."

The Islanders briefly tied the game on Hamonic's power play goal with 12:48 left. Michael Grabner emerged from a scrum in the right corner with the puck and passed it to Hamonic, who fired it past Brodeur.

"It was nice to get the crowd into it, but we've just got to respond better," Hamonic said.

Hamonic also had the Islanders' best chance to tie the game late, but Brodeur made a nice glove save on a point-blank shot with 4:14 left.

"I thought I (had the goal)," Hamonic said. "That's the one that's going to (tick) me off for a while. Unfortunately, that's a game-changing play right there and I've got to be better."

NOTES: Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur made his NHL-record 18th straight opening night start. Brodeur, who turns 41 in May, signed a two-year contract extension last summer. ... One of Brodeur's new teammates is 18-year-old Stefan Matteau, who was not even born yet when his Dad, Stephane, scored one of the most famous goals in NHL history when he beat Brodeur in double overtime to give the Rangers the win in Game 7 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals. Stefan Matteau learned Friday he'd made the Devils' opening night roster. ... The Islanders beat the Florida Panthers, 2-1, in their first game following the 1994-95 lockout on Jan. 21, 1995 while the Devils tied the Hartford Whalers, 2-2, a day later. ... The Islanders suspended defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky on Friday. Visnovsky was acquired from Ducks last June but tried to have the trade overruled by an arbitrator, who declared the deal was valid. Visnovsky played in Europe during the lockout and missed the Islanders' training camp this week due to personal reasons.
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