Islanders hoping quick puck movement keeps fast Devils at bay

Barzal Horvat Islanders
New York Islanders center Mathew Barzal (13) controls the puck against Buffalo Sabres left wing Zach Benson (9) during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Noah K. Murray)

EAST MEADOW, N.Y. — The Islanders haven’t been short of speedy opponents this season, even if it’s only two games old. 

The Buffalo Sabres and Arizona Coyotes — both of whom were defeated by the Islanders to start the season — boast an abundance of quickness, but the Islanders managed to hold them to a combined two goals over 120 minutes of play.

But New York’s opponent on Friday night at UBS Arena, the New Jersey Devils, might just be the fastest team in the league.

A team predicated on an explosive offense, led by center Jack Hughes (six points in three games) and winger Jesper Bratt (five points in three games) still hasn’t been able to get its big acquisition last season, Timo Meier going, but they have the ability to run any team out of the rink on any given night.

“This is another great opportunity, a good test against a really good team, a really fast team,” defenseman Noah Dobson said. “I’m sure we’ll be ready to go.”

The Islanders don’t necessarily possess the same kind of speed as some of the younger, more refined teams around the NHL — and it was certainly something they struggled with last season. But the old adage of “the puck moves faster than the man,” becomes their M.O., especially on nights like this. 

“I think the way we play fast is our puck movement,” center Bo Horvat said. “We don’t have [Connor] McDavid speed or even Hughes’ speed… but the way we play fast is how quick we transition the puck and I think we’ve done a good job of that the first two games. If we continue to do that and keep the press on that way, I think it’s going to benefit us for sure.”

Crisp puck movement will put plenty of pressure on the Devils, who have allowed 10 goals in open play over their first three games of the season. That included the Coytoes, who the Islanders shut out 1-0 on Tuesday night, coming away with a 4-3 shootout win last Friday.

“You always try to be the same way consistently every single night, but against a high-flying Devils team like this, the biggest thing is to be able to manage the puck and to be quick on the transitions, and play well defensively,” Horvat said. “The more you limit their offensive guys’ time and space, the better for us. The quicker we get the puck up the ice and be in the offensive zone instead of the defensive zone all night will be huge for us.

“I think we handled ourselves really well the first two games and it shouldn’t change. It shouldn’t change the way we play just because we’re playing the Devils, there’s a reason why we’ve had success the first two games.”

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