During a conference call on Dec. 31, New York Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello said he looked forward to the competitive nature of a regular season consisting entirely of divisional games.
It hasn't taken long for the Islanders and Lamoriello's former employer, the New Jersey Devils, to learn just how tightly packed the East Division will be.
The Islanders and Devils are both looking to build off narrow victories when the longtime rivals meet in Uniondale, N.Y., on Thursday night.
The Islanders have been off since Monday, when Jean-Gabriel Pageau scored with 4:09 left in the third period to provide the only goal in a 1-0 win over the visiting Boston Bruins.
The Devils earned their second consecutive win Tuesday night, when Jack Hughes scored twice in a 4-3 victory over the host New York Rangers.
The one-goal game was the third straight for the Devils, who fell to the Bruins, 3-2, in the shootout last Thursday before earning a 2-1 overtime win over Boston on Saturday. The Islanders opened the season with a pair of lopsided games against the Rangers -- a 4-0 win last Thursday and a 5-0 loss on Saturday -- before evening their goal differential Monday.
Entering Wednesday, six of the eight teams in the East Division had a goal differential between one and minus-1 -- everyone except the Philadelphia Flyers (plus-4) and Pittsburgh Penguins (minus-4).
"I think the rivalries will just raise to a level that we haven't seen in a long, long time," said Lamoriello, who was the Devils' president and general manager from 1987 to 2015. "I go back to the old Patrick Division and I remember what that was like."
The Islanders haven't wasted any time displaying the methodical style that helped New York mount a surprising run to the conference finals in the playoff bubbles last season.
Pageau's goal was one of just 17 shots by the Islanders, who have scored only five goals but also allowed only five through three games.
"Obviously, it was nice to score that goal," Pageau said. "We played playoff hockey and we stuck with it and that's why we came out on top."
The one goal was enough for Islanders netminder Semyon Varlamov, who recorded 27 saves to become the first goalie in franchise history to open a season with back-to-back shutouts. Varlamov missed Saturday's game against the Rangers after he was hit in the neck by a puck during warmups.
On Thursday, he'll likely be opposed by another hot goalie in the Devils' Mackenzie Blackwood, who made 47 saves Tuesday and has allowed just six goals in 115 shots this season.
"I don't really like to reflect on stats that much because when they're bad, sometimes they're out of your control and when they're good, sometimes you're getting bounces you wouldn't otherwise," Blackwood said. "It's all about how I feel. Right now, I feel pretty good."
--Field Level Media