The Islanders received a hero’s welcome when they were introduced to the NYCB Live Nassau Coliseum crowd before their home opener and season opener Friday night. Before the public address announcer could even address Islanders coach Barry Trotz’s name, fans rose from their seats and gave him a standing ovation for getting more out of less, especially defensively from these players in last season’s 48-27-7 record that ended with a Carolina Hurricanes sweep in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
All goods vibes emanated from tailgates to the corridors to the stands. It felt like a festival out there. Fans recollected great memories from last season after unwatchable hockey seasons created by then-Islanders general manager Garth Snow. The feeling was this Islanders franchise arrived as a professional NHL franchise that was ready to take the next step. Maybe winning the Stanley Cup perhaps.
Then, the game started. The Washington Capitals reminded the Islanders and their overzealous fans at the game that last season is over after the visitors grinded and mucked their way to a 2-1 victory over the home team.
Only the Capitals can put a crowd to sleep with their boring style of play. They do such a great job setting an entertaining product back. Whatever.
Despite the loss, Islanders fans left the arena feeling good that there won’t be 81 games like that. They know good games will come with bad games in a long season. Refreshing change from what was the norm prior to the arrival of Lou Lamoriello and Trotz.
They also know the Islanders will get everyone’s best shot every game. The team knew that going back to training camp. There’s no question the Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers, Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers and defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues will be ready to go when the Islanders play them in their next five games. Starting off 0-5 would not be out of the question if they are not careful.
No one suggests the Islanders took the Capitals lightly. They showed up to play. But when things got tough in the third period, they did not step it up a notch. That’s why they took the loss.
The Islanders could not generate much offense in the Capitals zone in the third period whatsoever. They could not push back. Quite frankly, they offered no resistance. That period explained why they lost that game after trailing 2-1 in the second intermission.
In a way, it was surprising since that team has been known for its resilience last season. That was the disappointing aspect of this game.
Obviously, it’s one game out of an 82-game season, but it should be a reminder that nothing will be given for the Islanders.
Face it. The Islanders were not playing the Buffalo Sabres, Ottawa Senators or the Rangers last night. They played a team that won the Cup two years ago, and they played a team that was ticked off about blowing a 3-1 Game 7 lead against the Hurricanes and took a 4-3 loss in double overtime in the first round that ended their chances of repeating as Stanley Cup champs. They are a Stanley Cup contender to this day, and they are playing like it with their 2-0 start.
BTW, funny you ask, but the Capitals play the Hurricanes Saturday night at Capital One Arena for the first time since Game 7 at Capital One Arena. It’s also the Capitals home opener, so the Islanders knew what they were in for on Friday night. There was no letup by the visitors.
Islanders fans can look for the same type of effort every game from the Islanders’ opponents. A 0-1 start can snowball fast, so there’s that aspect of disappointment. Their upcoming opponents do not reflect Little Sisters of the Poor. That means the Islanders can’t just play 40 minutes and expect to win anymore.
If we are being honest, the Islanders’ play against the Capitals would be C+ at best. They mustered one goal, and the Capitals pushed them around. This is no A performance, and this certainly does not merit an above average grade.
It’s easy to blame new Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov for giving up two goals. Blaming a goaltender tends to be an easy excuse, especially when it comes to Varlamov, who has a history of giving up bad goals at the wrong time. But it wouldn’t have mattered if the departed Robin Lehner or Thomas Greiss patrolled the nets last night for the Islanders based on how the Islanders played in the third period. Quite frankly, if Varlamov did not play well, this would have been a 5-1 whipping. He kept the Islanders in the game.
The Islanders should have stepped up their game. The least they can do is shoot the puck in that third period. They couldn’t do that.
This home opener serves more as a teaching moment than celebration in a sense the Islanders must exert effort for 60 minutes every game since the other team will when they play them.
Yes, this home opener showed last season is now over and done with for your plucky Islanders.