Four games into the season and the New York Islanders have a win, two regulation losses and a shootout loss. What does that tell us? Probably that the Islanders aren’t as bad as they played in their season-opening, 5-0 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets. And that the Isles are more likely somewhere in between the team that whipped the Buffalo Sabres 6-3 in their home opener, the one that rallied to tie the St. Louis Blues before falling to them in a shootout 3-2 and the one that played well in a 3-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks.
Surprisingly, season openers haven’t been the Islanders’ thing. In 45 openers, they have 11 wins, 26 losses and eight ties. Even during their Stanley Cup glory years (1980-83), they were 1-3 in their first game following a championship.
This year’s opener, though, has to rank as one of the worst.
The team allowed a goal to Sonny Milano 67 seconds into the game and it was downhill from there. They trailed 2-0 after the first period then gave up three goals in a five-minute span in the middle of the second frame. Goalie Thomas Greiss was pulled after allowing five goals on 26 shots in 31:50 and the Blue Jackets’ speed caught the Islanders flat-footed.
It was the third time in team history that the Islanders were shut out in a season opener: they lost 1-o to the Los Angeles Kings on Oct. 4, 1996, and 2-0 to the Florida Panthers on Oct. 8, 2011. Allowing five goals also matches the worst margin of defeat in a season opener: they lost 7-2 to the New Jersey Devils on Oct. 12, 1984, and 6-1 to the Washington Capitals on Oct. 9, 2003.
Home openers, however, have been a different story for the Islanders. They have 27 wins, 17 losses and 1 tie in 45 openers.
With the Barclays Center rocking, and the team looking to make amends for their poor effort the night before in Columbus, the Islanders came out flying and more aggressive against the Sabres. Fittingly, it was John Tavares who scored the team’s first goal of the year just 1:50 into the contest.
Tavares struck again shorthanded at 5:13 of the second period and Casey Cizikas (also shorthanded) and Josh Bailey followed as the Isles scored three times in a span of 1:47 to make it 4-0.
Cizikas capped the 6-3 victory with an empty-net goal, marking the first two-goal game of his career. It will be key for the Islanders to get scoring from their third and/or fourth lines.
Interestingly, the win came on the 45th anniversary of the Islanders’ first game. On Oct. 7, 1972, they played fellow expansion team, the Atlanta Flames, at Nassau Coliseum and lost 3-2. Ed Westfall and Billy Harris scored for the Islanders.
The Overtime Loss
It is easy to play well in your home opener. There’s extra energy in the building and the team, eager to make a good impression, feeds off of it.
Perhaps a better indicator is the second home game when there isn’t quite so much fanfare. The Islanders didn’t play poorly against the Blues. They had chances but were denied for the first 47 minutes of regulation by St. Louis goalie Jake Allen, who finished with 40 saves. Second-period goals by Vladimir Tarasenko put the Islanders in a 2-0 hole.
Finally, Andrew Ladd solved Allen with seven minutes left in the third period, beating him with a wrist shot. Then, with Greiss off for the extra attacker, Anders Lee scored the tying goal with 59.2 seconds left in regulation. Even though they lost in the shootout, rallying to earn a point was big. There’s a saying about not being able to clinch a playoff spot in October, but you can lose one in October. Come April, that one point might be crucial.
It was good to see Greiss bounce back after being pulled in the Columbus game. He made some big saves to keep the game at 2-0 before the Islanders mounted their comeback.
One area that needs improvement is the power play. The Isles are 0-10 in the first three games, including 0 for 6 against the Blues. Also, they allowed two shorthanded goals against the Sabres. They need to figure out how to capitalize on their man-advantage opportunities quickly.
In the first game of a three-game California road trip, the Islanders lost to the Anaheim Ducks 3-2.
Again, they gave up a quick goal as Andrew Cogliano scored for the Ducks 37 seconds into the game. The Islanders did dominate the rest of the period, outshooting the Ducks in the first 20-6 and tying the score at 1. But goals by Rickard Rakell in the second and Patrick Eaves early in the third gave the Ducks a 3-1 lead. The Islanders must stop playing catch up if they want to succeed.
Brock Nelson scored both Islanders goals and Josh Ho-Sang had two assists. Again, it’s good whenever the Islanders can get secondary scoring. They finished with 41 shots but were denied by Ducks goalie John Gibson who made 39 saves. The Isles have 83 shots in their last two games but only four goals and they must start finding ways to convert more of those chances.
Plus, the power play failed again and the Isles were 0 for 5. The team is now 0-15 with the man-advantage. It is the first time since 2000 that they do not have a power play goal in their first four games.
Games against the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings wrap up the west coast trip. The Islanders will look to build on and fix what they’ve learned in their first four games.