Nothing satisfying about whipping your home fans up into a great Home Opener frenzy, only to come out sloppy, perhaps uptight, and deliver a flat performance without a single goal for. You almost wonder if all the home opener hype and excitement for a young squad that finished last season strong got to their head, and they forgot about the requirements of the job at hand.
The Panthers, to their credit, played a strong game from the beginning, with disciplined defense intercepting Islanders passes that were too often too easy to pick off; with Brian Campbell roaming with the puck to disrupt Islanders coverage; and with Jose Theodore making the needed saves once the Islanders finally applied pressure during the second half of the game.
Overall, a powerful lesson for the Islanders: The season is here. That means work, and attention to detail. The happy talk won't write itself.
Game 'Highlights' (air quotes apply)
Note: These might not play right away. New season, so new norms and kinks to work out at nhl.com. If it doesn't play, check back later. Wait ... why do you want to see any clips from this game anyway?
The Panthers don't have stars (well, I'd call Stephen Weiss one), but they do have four lines capable of playing some hockey. It was a simple, effective game for them. The early lead helped, a 5-on-3 enabled the final margin of victory, and while they faced some Islanders powerplays down the stretch, they kept it simple and survived.
Final shots were just 29-27 for the Panthers, but that was a product of the Islanders getting more chances (and powerplays) in the second half as they scuffled to come back. First-period shots were 10-5 for the Panthers, and the margin got to 17-7 before things started to turn around.
The New Veterans: Hard to read too much into them, but Brian Rolston was a nice presence on the point for the powerplay -- smart puck plays, not just howitzers from the point. Need more looks at him next to Josh Bailey and Blake Comeau. Jay Pandolfo was part of a fourth line that didn't get a lot of work but they handled their assignments well. Marty Reasoner showed several small smart instances that reflect why he was a good addition.
The Incumbent Stars: John Tavares was one of the brighter spots. He carried the puck well, moved like off-season skating work might pay off, and was clearly driven all night, unlike many teammates. Was 10-7 in the faceoff circle. The FNGO line of Frans Nielsen, Kyle Okposo and Michael Grabner had a few moments -- though I think they forced a few home run passes for Grabner to fetch -- but overall nothing like their magical nights last season. Like most of the team, not totally in sync. Of course Okposo hit the post again on a zipping shot from the high slot.
Josh Bailey was the Josh Bailey we've come to know: He made a goal-saving defensive play on the penalty kill ... and at the end of the first period he had a chance to shoot as time expired but passed instead. (The pass, to be fair, would have created a great scoring chance ... had it not been intercepted.)
Matt Martin was the Matt Martin we've come to know: He had some very nice sequences both hitting, winning the puck and handling the puck. Of all people he tied Rolston for a team-high five shots (in just 8:57!) Some were bad-angle, but still...more than his teammates could say. Anyway, he also displayed some of that "every battle is my battle" overexuberance that can get him in trouble. His one penalty was behind the play, and I'm not sure if it was his fault or clever simulation by Theodore.
Penalty Kill: The only goal conceded on five Panthers opportunities was on a 5-on-3, but that doesn't mean the regular PK was airtight. Steve Staios and Mark Eaton carried the bulk of it with nearly 5 minutes of PK time each. The Panthers moved the puck well, got four shots off at 5-on-4 and a few more that missed the net. As usual, a few misclears and unlucky bounces here and there were the difference between sustained attacks and a relieving clearance.
Mike Mottau, who had eight penalty minutes in 20 games in 2010-11, piled up six on three crucial minors tonight. He made a few nice plays with the puck, but his defense was slow and got him into trouble. And on one play where he took a rather soft holding penalty as David Booth streaked around him, he finished it by driving Booth into Montoya.
The Blake Comeau back-to-his-natural-wing experiment needs more looks. (Everything needs more looks after one game, but that one I don't even feel comfortable commenting on.) COZO-free night.
After the Panthers crashed Montoya's crease twice (with some Islanders help), Travis Hamonic took a noogie shot at Tomas Kopecky's prone head, which drew Scott Upshall to fight Hamonic. Hamonic wasted no time in accepting the challenge, but the sequence took him off the ice for seven minutes. (Upshall was tossed for not having his jersey tied down.)
Al Montoya drew the big home opener start and played fairly well, but hardly airtight. There were several uncomfortable rebounds that his defense was able to clear, and he ended up in snow-angel position a couple of times when staying upright and square appeared to be possible. He certainly made his share of saves and looked more like the Montoya who finished last season than the one who looked shaky in his first few Islanders appearances. So far, so good.
I don't know what the new goal song is, because there was no need for it tonight.
Well, That Season's Over. See You Next October.
I read no lasting conclusions from this game. It was one game and, sorry, I've seen every kind of season-opener in the book and have it in no way relate to a team's outcomes after game 82. Do I have to bring up Mike Comrie and a season-opening home-and-home with Buffalo, or do you catch my drift?
The real shame is the Islanders players wasted a great opportunity in front of a packed, excited home crowd that no doubt included some newbies and some crotchety old-timers returning to give them one more chance. On the rest of this home stand, they'll have to do better.
Next game is the Columbus Day matinee Monday. By Monday evening, we'll have doubled our 2011-12 sample size.
User Note: To better sort and handle traffic this year, we're trying separate immediate post-game "plus/minus" threads. I'm not sure it worked out as designed this time, but it's first-game rust for everyone. Bear with us. Point is to get up a thread quickly so that people can get out of the game thread (unless they're continuing conversation there), leave some more organized thoughts in the plus/minus thread -- and not have to wait for our recap to offer your comments of substance. Hopefully our recaps will continue to have archival links for your reference (including Corsi/TOI-type stuff).