Could it have gone any better than the way it did? Sunday afternoon, the New York Islanders returned to Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum to kick off their busy preseason schedule and host the Philadelphia Flyers.
It was the team’s first game on Long Island since their preseason game against the Flyers last year on Sept. 17, 2017, and will be their last until Dec. 1 when they will host the Columbus Blue Jackets in their second home opener of the season. A total of 8,041 fans were in attendance to witness the team’s first of eight preseason games.
The final score from the Coliseum was 3-0 Isles with Kieffer Bellows, Cal Clutterbuck, and Sebastian Aho scoring for the home team. Robin Lehner played the first half of the game and Christopher Gibson played the second half as the two combined for a 17-save shutout. For reference, the Islanders put 25 shots on goal.
Admittedly, the Islanders dressed a far more superior lineup as many veterans yearned to play at the Coliseum. The Isles and Flyers will be seeing a lot more of each other throughout the preseason as the two are scheduled to face off again on Monday at Wells Fargo Center, Tuesday at Barclays Center, and Friday at PPL Center in Allentown, PA.
Kieffer Bellows Puts on a Show
Last year, we saw a young Mathew Barzal dominate the competition throughout the preseason making it impossible for the Islanders to leave him off the roster. While it’s only been one game thus far, Bellows is looking to make it very hard on management to leave him off the opening night roster.
The good news is that even if the 20-year-old can’t crack the opening night roster, he will be just a call-up away in Bridgeport with the Sound Tigers as he prepares for his first season of professional hockey.
Bellows, who was drafted 16th overall by the Isles in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, scored just 6:55 into the game as he got a pass from Jordan Eberle below the goal line, and, while playing in front of the net on the Islanders’ top power-play unit, was able to put it home and give New York a 1-0 lead.
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) September 16, 2018
Throughout the game, Bellows continued to dominate and show off his impressive shot which helped him break Jeremy Roenick’s record for the most goals scored by an American player at a single World Junior Championship last season (nine goals).
Bellows played on the third line on Sunday, serving as left-wing alongside center Jan Kovar and right-wing Steve Bernier. His early goal held up as the game-winner and he was also credited with a secondary assist on Aho’s goal although instant replay would suggest that Bernier was worthy of that assist. Regardless, his efforts led to him being named the first star of the game.
Reunited and It Feels So Good
As Roger Luce, the team’s PA announcer read out the starting lineup, fans got on their feet and gave a loud standing ovation to Matt Martin who got the nod to take the opening shift with former and now reunited linemates Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck.
The line, dubbed the E=MC2 (Energy=Martin, Cizikas, Clutterbuck) line by Islanders legend and MSG Networks color commentator Butch Goring, was very successful when together from 2014-2016 and will apparently get a chance to rekindle its chemistry during the preseason.
As reported by Andrew Gross of Newsday, head coach Barry Trotz said after the game that he gave the line a heads up that they would be starting, recognizing not only the energy they bring to the table and their ability to set the tone but the impact they had on the Isles and the Coliseum.
Right from the second the puck dropped, it felt like the line had never been separated. All three were throwing their body and playing their patented high-energy game. The trio also helped the Islanders penalty-kill finish at a perfect four-for-four and while seeing rare power-play ice time, Clutterbuck gave the Isles a 2-0 lead after Cizikas’ attempt to get the puck on net bounced to him.
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) September 16, 2018
The line, considered the second-line for this game, finished the game with a combined 11 hits as Cizikas led the way with six and five shots on goal led by Martin’s three.
Lehner and Gibson Shut the Door
Only 17 shots found their way on goal for Philadephia but Robin Lehner and Christopher Gibson had the answer for all of them. Lehner, who bravely shared his story of addiction and his bipolar diagnosis on Thursday, also received a loud cheer when announced as a starter. Not only does he have the fans behind him, but he has the Isles’ and the rest of the league’s support as well.
Playing the first 29:29 of the game, Lehner only saw eight shots in his Islander debut but looked sharp, especially while shorthanded where he made four of his saves. As was planned, Gibson finished out the game, playing in the final 30:31. Gibson stopped the remaining nine shots the Flyers put on goal, preserving a 2-0 lead which eventually extended to 3-0 on Aho’s blast from the point.
Trotz Is the Head Coach of the Islanders
Sorry, it’s just nice to say that if you’re an Islanders fan. The coach that ranks fifth all-time in wins and is fresh off a Stanley Cup championship is now the head coach of the New York Islanders. His impact is already on display as reporters from training camp observe his intensely-run practices and Islander fans saw a solid 200-foot performance from their team Sunday.
The team’s penalty kill, which finished last in the league this past season, was a perfect four-for-four and the power-play was clicking, finishing at two-for-three.
Defensively, the Islanders looked solid in their own zone, not giving the Flyers much room to work with. Trotz, however, recognizes that there is always room for improvement.
After the game, Trotz told the media, “I really liked the first two periods for us. We did a lot of good things. Overall, pretty happy. I liked our commitment and our willingness to go the distance on plays. It was a good start for us. We were hard to play against.”
On to the Next One
While there was a lot to like about Sunday’s victory, it is important to take it all with a grain of salt. As previously mentioned, the Islanders had a very NHL-experienced lineup for the game and the Flyers, on the contrary, did not.
The Islanders preseason schedule is a busy one that includes six games in seven days (including Sunday’s game) and eight total games in seven different venues. Trotz has already announced that no Islander who played at the Coliseum will dress for Monday’s game in Philadelphia so we will see an entirely different group of Islanders for that contest.