Islanders History: Recalling Their First Win

Break up the Vegas Golden Knights.

With wins in their first three games, the Golden Knights became the first expansion team in the 100-year history of the National Hockey League to start 3-0-0. James Neal has led the way for Vegas with five goals in the three games. During their home opener against the Arizona Coyotes, Neal scored twice during a four-goal first period on the way to a 5-2 victory.

Certainly, no one believes the Golden Knights are going to go undefeated in their inaugural season. But their fast start has raised some curiosity about how long it took other expansion teams to get their first wins, including the New York Islanders.

October 12, 1972

Rogie Vachon Kings Goalie
Los Angeles Kings goalie Rogie Vachon stopped the Islanders’ Billy Harris on a penalty shot in the second period. However, he could not stop Germain Gagnon’s game-winning goal late in the third period. The Islanders won, 3-2, for the first win in team history.

Five days after losing their inaugural game to the Atlanta Flames, the Islanders hosted the Los Angeles Kings at the Nassau Coliseum in their second NHL game.

After a scoreless first period, Bob Berry gave the Kings a 1-0 lead in the second. But Billy Harris, who minutes earlier was denied on a penalty shot by Kings goalie Rogie Vachon, scored to tie the game at one. Berry struck again one minute into the third period to regain the lead for Los Angeles. But Harris netted his second of the game just 1:39 later to tie it at two. Then, with 1:09 remaining, Islanders defenseman Arnie Brown blocked a shot in front of goalie Billy Smith. Germain Gagnon picked up the puck, headed up the ice, split two Kings defenders and fired a shot past Vachon for the game-winning goal.

Islanders 3, Kings 2. The Islanders had their first win in team history.

Of course, there wouldn’t be many that first season. After beating Los Angeles, the Islanders went 0-5-1 in their next six games and wound up with a record of 12-60-6.

Others’ First Time

When the NHL doubled in size from six to 12 teams in 1967, two of those expansion teams won their first two games: the Oakland Seals and Los Angeles Kings. The Seals beat the Philadelphia Flyers, 5-1, and the Minnesota North Stars, 6-0. The Kings also defeated the Flyers, 4-2, and the North Stars, 5-3.

As for their Class of ’67 brethren, the Pittsburgh Penguins won their second game, 3-1, over the St. Louis Blues. The Blues then returned the favor, beating the Penguins, 4-2, in their third game for their first win.

Al Arbour
Al Arbour was team captain of the St. Louis Blues during their inaugural season of 1967-68. The Blues got their first NHL win in their third game, 4-2, over the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Flyers also got their first win in their third game, beating the Blues, 2-1. After an 0-2-2 start, the North Stars finally got their first win in their fifth game, 3-1, over the Seals.

In 1970, the Buffalo Sabres and Vancouver Canucks entered the league. The Sabres won their first game, 2-1, over the Penguins. The Canucks lost their first game, then won their second game over the Toronto Maple Leafs, 5-3.

Along with the Islanders, the Atlanta Flames entered the fold in 1972. The teams played their inaugural games against each other, which the Flames won, 3-2, for their first win.

Twenty years later, in 1992, the Tampa Bay Lightning and Ottawa Senators joined the league and both won their inaugural games. The Lightning beat the Chicago Blackhawks, 7-3, and the Senators knocked off the Montreal Canadiens, 5-3. Of course, the Senators proceeded to go 0-20-1 in their next 21 games and won just 10 games all season.

Believe it or not, the Senators are not the worst expansion team in NHL history. That distinction belongs to the 1974-75 Washington Capitals, who went 8-67-5 in their first season. They started o-2-1 before getting a win in their fourth game, 4-3, over the Blackhawks. Then, they went 0-13-1 in their next 14 games.

Coming into the league with Capitals in 1974 were the Kansas City Scouts. It took them 10 games to get their first win. They started 0-8-1 before beating the Capitals, 5-4.

In 1979, the four World Hockey Association teams merged into the NHL. Both the Quebec Nordiques and Winnipeg Jets won their third games and both of the wins came against the Colorado Rockies. The Edmonton Oilers started 0-1-2 before beating the Nordiques in their fourth game. The Hartford Whalers began 0-2-2 before beating the Kings in their fifth game for their first win.

Wayne Gretzky had three assists in a 6-3 victory over the Quebec Nordiques on Oct. 19, 1979. It was the Edmonton Oilers’ first win in the NHL since merging from the WHA. (Photo by B Bennett/Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)

Not until 1991 did the NHL expand again when the San Jose Sharks came into existence. The Sharks lost their first two games, before beating the Calgary Flames in their third game, 4-3. They then dropped their next 13 games.

More recently, both the Florida Panthers and Anaheim Mighty Ducks got their first wins in their third games in 1993. The Nashville Predators won their second game in 1998. The Atlanta Thrashers got their first win in their fourth game in 2000. In 2001, the Columbus Blue Jackets won their third game while the Minnesota Wild won their sixth game.