The New York Islanders start their season this week and they begin the season with a tough road schedule. In fact, the Islanders play the entire month of October on the road and play their first home game on Nov. 20.
In the month of October in particular, there are many intriguing matchups with some of the best teams in the NHL, allowing the team to get off the ground running.
Carolina Hurricanes – Oct. 14
The Carolina Hurricanes finished last season with the best record in the Central Division with 36 wins in 56 games. The team returns to the Metropolitan Division with Stanley Cup aspirations led by some of the best skaters in the game like Sebastian Aho, Martin Necas, and Andrei Svechnikov, giving the Islanders a tough game to start the season.
The Hurricanes enter this season with a roster that lost veteran defenseman Dougie Hamilton and goaltender Alex Nedeljovic, who had a .932 save percentage and 1.90 goals-against average off of 648 shots. However, the Hurricanes return many of the key contributors to an offense that scored 3.13 goals per game last season and will also incorporate surprise offseason acquisition 21-year-old Jesperi Kotkaniemi into the forward unit — he is one of the best young forwards in the NHL.
The Islanders will have to limit the fast, potent offense and specifically eliminate cross-ice passes that top line forwards Aho and Svechnikov execute off the odd-man rush, catching goaltenders out of position. The Islanders have the defensemen to limit any offense in the NHL and considering the two complete rosters, the opening night game should be a great one.
Florida Panthers – Oct. 16
The Florida Panthers have a deep and talented roster that won 37 games last season with an offense that scored 3.36 goals per game and allowed only 2.70 goals per game. The Panthers are going to force the Islanders to fend off an offense that is great off the odd-man rush. Defensemen Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock, in particular, will have to dial in on Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau and force the later lines to beat them.
The Islanders also are going to have a tough time finding open shots when defenseman MacKenzie Weegar is on the ice. The forward unit, as a result, might have to turn to the Brock Nelson-led line or the Jean-Gabriel Pageau-led line to find the back of the net. The matchup will be a big test for both rosters and looks to be a close game as a result that might come down to a few shifts or a big save from one of the goaltenders.
Vegas Golden Knights – Oct. 24
The Vegas Golden Knights might be the best team in the NHL and are expected to compete for the Stanley Cup with talented players in every unit. Like the Islanders, the Golden Knights have played in the semifinals in consecutive seasons, and did so with a defensive unit that allowed only 2.18 goals per game last season — the best in the NHL anchored by Alec Martinez, Shea Theodore, and Alex Pietrangelo. The Islanders will be making their first trip to Las Vegas since February of 2020 and will have arguably their toughest matchup in the month of October.
The Islanders will have to test a former teammate in goaltender Robin Lehner, who will likely start the game for the Golden Knights and is going to receive a greater workload this season after the front office traded Marc-Andre Fleury in the offseason. The Islanders won’t receive many opportunities to find quality shots on the net, especially when defensemen Martinez and Theodore are on the ice, but forwards like Mathew Barzal and Anders Lee will have to overwhelm the opposing goaltender and fire off plenty of shots to find the back of the net. Moreover, this game can become a battle of defensemen, and turnovers from Noah Dobson or Scott Mayfield that turn into offensive opportunities or shots from the point through traffic will be crucial to the team’s success.
Other Big Games In October
The Islanders’ road trip to start the season features some of the best teams in the league, but also features a handful of promising rosters that can become some of the best this season. The Islanders face the Chicago Blackhawks on Oct. 19, the team that acquired veteran defenseman Seth Jones and the reigning Vezina Trophy winner Fleury, making them a team that can’t be overlooked. Likewise, the Nashville Predators are a team that turned a corner in the second half of last season, making them a tough opponent on Oct. 30.
The Islanders will be tested early on this season and starting the season on the road won’t be easy. The start of the season not only will test the team’s stamina, especially towards the end of the road trip, but it will also be a crucial time for head coach Barry Trotz to find out which line combinations are going to be the best for the team’s success this season.
Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November 2020 and covers the New York Islanders. In addition to covering the Islanders, Fink has written for multiple sports blogs and platforms covering the NHL, NFL, MLB, and college sports. Follow Mike on Twitter @Finks_thoughts for more Islanders and general hockey insights.