On October 26, 2013, the New York Islanders took to the ice at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum against the Philadelphia Flyers, and the first line consisted of Matt Moulson, John Tavares, and Kyle Okposo.
When the Isles took the ice at home tonight against the Minnesota Wild, only one was in the lineup. Tonight, New York’s first line looked very different and included Anders Lee, Frans Nielsen, and Okposo.
Tavares is currently on the IR with a season-ending MCL tear, which he sustained during the 2014 Sochi Winter Games. As for Moulson, he was still on the ice tonight, but for the first time ever he skated at the Coliseum as a member of the visiting team.
Moulson to Buffalo
A day after that 5-2 loss to Philadelphia at home, on October 27, GM Garth Snow surprised man fans and players alike, when he shipped Moulson off to western New York to join the Buffalo Sabres in return for star forward, Thomas Vanek.
At the time it was a move that was aimed to bring more star power, and a more explosive offensive presence to the Island, in hopes that it could bring the Isles to yet another level and establish them as a true contender in the East.
Yet now Vanek is a Montreal Canadien, Moulson is on his third team this year, and the Islanders are fighting to stay out of the basement in the standings.
The move didn’t work out as Snow may have hoped when he pulled the trigger on the deal, and at the time, it shocked the Isles to the core.
“I made some of the best friends I’ve had in my life with that team. We were a pretty close group,” Moulson told Newsday on Sunday. “To be taken away from that was tough. It was extremely tough on myself and my family, especially coming out of the blue like it did for me.”
It was something that blindsided Moulson, one of the franchise’s key players over the past few years, as he had envisioned himself to be an Islander for the rest of his career.
But while the emotional aspect took a toll on the scrappy forward, the business side of the game told him it was time to move on, and fast.
And that is just what he did.
In 44 games as a Sabre, the Cornell grad registered 11 goals, 18 assists, for 29 points as he kept his offensive production in check despite being without long-time linemate John Tavares at center.
Yet while Moulson was settling in, Buffalo was shipping out. The Sabres, who are having yet another disappointing season, were in rebuilding mode and were major sellers at the deadline.
While goaltender Ryan Miller was sent to St. Louis to join the West-leading Blues, Moulson was sent to Minnesota, where he would be thrust back into a playoff race and continue his whirlwind season as a member of the Wild.
Moulson’s Wild Return
Which brings us to tonight, and the Ontario-native’s much anticipated return to the Coliseum. After 5 months away, Moulson would finally return back to where it all began when the Wild came to town.
It would be a familiar face, in a not so familiar setting as Moulson now took to the Coliseum ice as an enemy. He was met to a very warm welcome by the fans, who have missed seeing #26 in action, and was shown the appreciation and admiration from the Coliseum faithful for his time spent in the Blue and Orange.
That happy reunion would not last long.
Just 12:23 into the first period, Moulson reminded fans of what they’ve been missing, when he opened the scoring for the Wild off of a wrist shot for his 19th goal of the year, and just like that, he drew first blood against his former team.
The night would get even better for him, just as quickly as it got worse for the Islanders, who were embarrassed on home ice by one of their former stars.
The game ended with Ilya Bryzgalov and the Wild shutting out the Isles en route to a 6-0 road win. Moulson, who recorded 223 points in an Islanders uniform, led the charge against New York, scoring 2 goals and picking up an assist in the winning effort.
What “Matt” Have Been
For Islanders fans, the exit to Hempstead Turnpike was extra difficult. Not only had they watched their team lose by a touchdown (with no extra point), but they had watched one of their former favorites contribute a field goal against the struggling home team as their season continues to crumble right before their eyes.
While the loss of JT for the season may have had Garth Snow apologizing to fans for the injury that he blamed the NHL’s participation in the Olympic Games for, the real apology should be for a loss that happened much earlier in the season.
Losing the league’s leading scorer, and the team captain for the year stings, but just like his injury, that sting will heal when he returns to the lineup next October.
However, when Snow decided to send Moulson packing in favor of a high risk return, he gave up one of the centerpieces to the Islanders’ promising puzzle.
After his 3 point night in a triumphant return to Long Island, Matt Moulson had everyone in the Islanders community reflecting on just how much was lost just 11 games into the season this year, something that isn’t likely to heal even with his pending free agency in the summer.
Although he wouldn’t say it prior to the game, I’m sure that while the Islanders and their fans are recovering from a tough loss, Moulson is relishing in his successful chance to show Snow and the rest of the Isles brass the cards that they gambled with.
After Moulson’s showing tonight in his first game back at the Coliseum as a visitor, it appears as though that gamble, just like tonight’s game, was a major loss.