The Islanders kicked off the new season last night against the Florida Panthers @ UBS Arena, with a final score of 3-1 in favor of the Panthers. The night began with some 50th Anniversary celebrations, most notably the ceremonial puck drop from Ed Westfall, the very first captain and goal scorer for the NY Islanders franchise. He was a pleasant sight to see, grinning ear to ear as he fist bumped every player on the bench. It was a great display of the Islanders family to kick off the season.
The Isles came out slow but by the end of the first period they had found a groove, pouring on the scoring chances but not being able to capitalize, as would become a theme throughout the night. It also didn’t help that the Isles took a penalty less than a minute into the contest, but they managed to kill off all five of Florida’s power plays. Perhaps they could be more disciplined, but two of the penalties were very questionable on the part of the referees, namely the Robin Salo interference and Anders Lee roughing calls. At least we know they have a solid penalty kill, as Casey Cizikas almost notched another crazy effort short-handed goal and Ilya Sorokin looked great all game.
The style of play definitely looked riskier in terms of the offense, and although they gave up a lot of significant scoring chances, the Islanders were able to generate a remarkable number of chances for themselves. Bobroskvy played well, stopping 32/33 shots on goal but was certainly giving up a lot of rebounds. The offensive lines were mixed up frequently, but they just couldn’t seem to take advantage of the space they were creating, only getting one past him when Noah Dobson ripped one from the point for a power play goal to kick off the scoring for the season (1/3 on the PP). Barzal charged into the zone in classic spectacular fashion before setting up the play that led to the goal. If they can finally make a habit of scoring on the power play, this team will have a great chance of competing in the Metro division.
Soshnikov and Bellows stood out on both sides of the ice, as well, hitting everything that moved and getting 3 shots on goal each. The whole team played extremely physical, keeping the Panthers on their toes when they had the puck. There were a lot of post-whistle scraps, with Martin and Tkachuk often at the forefront of it, but no one shied away. The Isles finished the game with 37 hits and 25 blocked shots (Romanov had 4 hits and 9 blocked shots in his official debut). The physicality of this team was impressive.
The did not play a bad game. There were times where they looked slow and got caught chasing and watching, but both goals against were plays with sketchy bounces. The team overall was faster and more physical than the Panthers. The goals will come in time if this effort is matched.
Lane Lambert’s updated to the system appears to have a lot of potential, and the Islanders could put themselves in a good spot if they rack up a few wins this next week. They will play the Anaheim Ducks this Saturday at home, followed by the Sharks and Devils before travelling to Tampa on the 22nd. They have a realistic chance to come out of these first 5 games with a 3-2 record, and based on their play last night, there is no reason to except that they won’t.