Every team in the NHL has players that get the better of them game after game and season after season. Whether they’re at home or on the road, some players just have a team’s number. For the New York Islanders, these five players are their toughest opponents of all-time.
5) Wayne Gretzky
Islander fans of a certain age may recall Wayne Gretzky’s high-flying Edmonton Oilers facing off against the Isles in back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals in 1983 and 1984. But The Great One managed to pile up points against the Islanders in the regular season, too. Even though he played in the Western Conference for the majority of his career, outside of a few seasons with the New York Rangers, he scored 98 points in 55 games against the Islanders. He also scored his 700th career goal at the Nassau Coliseum against the Islanders on Jan. 3, 1991 while playing for the Los Angeles Kings.
Nearly two points per game is eye-opening, but Isles fans should consider themselves lucky. Teams in the Western Conference were subject to his wrath for twice as many games – Gretzky scored against teams like the Calgary Flames seemingly on a nightly basis. In his 20th and final season, he only managed 62 points in 70 games after scoring 90 or more points in the three seasons prior. In a fun piece of Islanders trivia, Gretzky’s last-ever goal, his ninth of the season, came at Madison Square Garden on March 29th, 1999, against the Islanders. It was the game-winner.
4) Sidney Crosby
Sidney Crosby, the only active player on this list as of May 2020, has been a nightmare for Islander fans since he entered the league following the 2004-05 lockout. Despite some scary injuries, he’s clawed his way back time after time and dominated the league for years, scoring well over a point per game pace throughout his career, winning Stanley Cups, and collecting plenty of personal hardware. (from ‘Penguins’ Sidney Crosby has a long history of working back from injuries, Pittsburgh Tribune Review, 01/12/2020)
It’s no surprise Crosby has scored the most points in his career against the Atlantic/Metropolitan Division, but his 113 points in 67 regular-season games against the Islanders tops the list, though the Flyers are a close second with 105 and Crosby has plenty of gas left in the tank.
Few points against the Islanders were more memorable than his goal after returning from injury in 2011, after 328 days without scoring. It didn’t help that as the Penguins were on the rise following this arrival in the NHL, the Islanders were sputtering, allowing him – and the rest of the league – to pad their stats against a struggling team.
3. Mark Recchi
In an era overflowing with talent, March Recchi made a name for himself as one of the league’s toughest competitors who could do it all. Even though he played for a total of seven teams throughout his career, many Islander fans will remember Recchi as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers.
Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2017, Recchi was a thorn in the Islanders’ side wherever he played. Over the course of 22 seasons split between the Penguins, Flyers, Canadiens, Hurricanes, Thrashers, Lightning, and Bruins he scored 1,533 points, 120 of which came against the Islanders, the most of any team.
2) Mario Lemieux
What is there to be said about Mario Lemieux that hasn’t already been said? Next to Gretzky, “Le Magnifique” is arguably the best player of all time. His size, skill, and stick-handling ability made him nearly unstoppable from his very first game in the NHL. He made countless defenders look like they were standing still and, like Crosby after him, helped put the Pittsburgh Penguins back on the map.
Lemieux terrorized the Islanders and the league for 17 seasons, scoring 1,723 points in just 915 games. 131 of those points came against the Islanders in 72 games and one of them is cast in bronze outside of Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. The moment immortalized forever took place on Dec. 20, 1988 when Lemieux collected a pass from Bob Errey just outside the Islanders zone, splitting defensemen Rich Pilon and Jeff Norton before torching goalie Kelly Hrudey. (from ”Le Magnifique’ cast in bronze: Lemieux statue unveiled,’ Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 03/07/2012)
1) Jaromir Jagr
Lemieux’s partner in crime for much of the 1990s, Jaromir Jagr took scoring and longevity to another level. In his fifth NHL game, on Oct. 13, 1990, Jagr scored his first NHL goal against the Islanders. He went on to score 1,920 more points over 24 seasons, putting him second on the all-time scoring list. 155 of those points came against the Islanders in 112 games, the most he had against any opponent. On Dec. 30, 1999, Jagr collected 7 of his 155 points in a 9-3 drubbing of the Islanders. Rookie Roberto Luongo, who was later Jagr’s teammate with the Florida Panthers, was the goalie at the time.
Jagr enjoyed playing the Islanders, even making a mention of it when he scored his 700th career goal against them on March 1, 2014 as a member of the New Jersey Devils, a 6-1 victory. “Well, they knew I scored 61 goals against them,” he said. “I love that team; they are my favorite.” (from “Jaromir Jagr vs. Islanders: A Long, Point-Filled History,” New York Times, April 14, 2016).
While it may be difficult for Islander fans to read through a list of players who torched their team, it’s a good reminder of the amazing skill that the league has been graced with. Many of these players changed the game, helping it evolve from one generation to the next and many, and eventually, all of these players will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Jon Zella is a 30-year-old Long Island native currently living in Syracuse, NY. Outside of hockey, he enjoys motorcycles, beer, coffee, and his dog Olive.