Grabner's pair sends Islanders racing past Devils

The SportsXchange

NEWARK, N.J. -- Michael Grabner has world-class speed and a penchant for finding himself on a breakaway, something the New Jersey Devils knew about before facing the New York Islanders on Friday night at Prudential Center.

Despite being prepared for Grabner, the Devils had almost zero success stopping him.

Grabner slipped behind the Devils defense on numerous occasions, using his blazing speed to score twice as the Islanders emerged with a 4-3 shootout victory in their season-opening contest.

The 26-year-old Austrian beat Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur on a first-period breakaway to bring the Islanders into a 1-1 tie, then scored early in the second period to once again pull his team even at 2-2.

"On the first one I just tried to make a neutral-zone transition," said Grabner, who added an assist on Frans Nielsen's third-period goal for a three-point night. "I got the puck and tried to move it to (defenseman Travis Hamonic) and I just tried to get open, not really looking for a breakaway."

Grabner's heroics in regulation helped set the stage for a six-round shootout in which Matt Moulson was the only goal-scorer. Both teams picked up a point, but the Islanders earned their first season-opening victory in six years.

Moulson beat Brodeur to the blocker side, but he felt there was more luck involved than skill on the deciding goal.

"The puck kind of popped up on me so it was kind of my only option to chip it up," Moulson said. "Luckily, it went there. I wouldn't say I aimed there. I got a lucky bounce."

Evgeni Nabokov made 26 saves for the Islanders, who will play their home opener Saturday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Brodeur stopped 23 shots for the Devils in his season debut. He missed most of the preseason as he returned home to Quebec following the death of his father, Denis, and served as the backup to Cory Schneider against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.

The 41-year-old looked rusty at times, especially on Nielsen's goal at the 1:01 mark of the third period, but was sharp over the remainder of the game. Brodeur stopped the final nine shots he faced during the third period and overtime and didn't allow a goal in the shootout until Moulson found the back of the net.

"I haven't played a game in two weeks, let alone an NHL game that counts," Brodeur said. "So for me, it was good. I enjoyed the way I played. I'd like to get one goal back. But apart from that, I made the saves that were important in the hockey game. They're all not going to be pretty games, but I found a way and felt pretty good. My energy was there."

After getting shut out in their season opener by the Penguins on Thursday night, the Devils wasted little time getting on the board against the Islanders.

Damien Brunner, who scored twice in the contest, fought through a check to tap home the rebound of a Dainius Zubrus shot at 2:59 of the first period to put the Devils ahead 1-0, but Grabner answered about five minutes later.

After Michael Ryder and Grabner exchanged goals in the second period, Nielsen put the Islanders ahead early in the third period. But Brunner's second goal of the game about seven minutes later knotted the score at 3-3.

Devils center Travis Zajac, who has yet to register a point in the early going, believes there was improvement over their loss in Pittsburgh and their upcoming five-game road trip can help all of the team's new faces jell.

"I don't think it was a complete game on our part, but we did some good things tonight," Zajac said. "But we still need to get better in a lot of areas. The more and more we play together, the easier it will get for us."

The win for the Islanders came without much production from the top line of Moulson, John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, but Moulson expects that to change against the Blue Jackets.

"We won games last year because everyone was contributing," Moulson said. "We got great players on all four lines and all six defensemen and both goalies. All good teams pick each other up when they have to. We want to be a part of helping this team win and we'll be a lot better tomorrow. I guarantee you that."

NOTES: Devils forward Ryan Carter played in his 300th career game and Devils defenseman Peter Harrold played in his 200th career game. ... The Devils embark on a five-game, 10-day road trip that begins Monday. They will face the Oilers, Canucks, Flames, Jets and Senators on the all-Canadian trek and won't play their next home game until Oct. 19. ... Entering Friday, the Islanders' last win in a season-opening game came on Oct. 5, 2007, against the Sabres. Rick DiPietro was the winning goaltender in Buffalo. ... Islanders forward Brock Nelson made his NHL debut. He was 2 years old when teammate Evgeni Nabokov was drafted by the Sharks in June 1994.
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