The New York Islanders have a golden chance to start the season off on a high note by twice facing a Carolina Hurricanes squad missing two of its most important forwards. They got the first half of the job done, ultimately cruising to a 5-3 victory.
This game, like most games, could've gone either way until things settled down into the narrative that the odds and lineups favored.
The Islanders were a little sloppy, or perhaps just incohesive, early on, conceding six of the first eight shots. The Hurricanes were sharper, and in particular drove harder to the net. The Islanders conceded multiple cross-ice chances in the first and scrambled for the rebounds. If Jaroslav Halak faced one crease crasher tonight he faced a hundred.
But the Islanders survived an early penalty kill -- a needless slash by Ryan Strome that broke his own stick -- and started to tilt things the other way when they earned a pair of late power plays. John Tavares wisely gave the puck away during the first one on a delayed penalty to create a longer 5-on-3. He then worked a combo with Kyle Okposo, who faked a shot before feeding Johnny Boychuk...boom.
That first goal came late in the first period, and Brock Nelson added to it just after the full power play expired. A brilliant pass through legs by John Tavares set up Nelson, who roofed it past Cam Ward from in tight.
Nelson made it 3-0 early in the second, the combat pay for standing in front of the net while Boychuk fired bombs from the point (this one off of Nelson's knee). The outcome never felt in doubt after that.
Simple. Hard: It ended up being a three-point night for Boychuk, who was asked what Jack Capuano told him for his first game just six days after being acquired: "Not too much. Just keep it simple. Work hard." The classic.
Another display of skill: Brock Nelson's backhand (but poised) pass at the blueline to Travis Hamonic, who took it on his off hand and brought it back into shooting position, niftily finding space inside the far post.
"Momentum" rebound: So John Tavares takes a "captain's penalty" by taking a swing at Tim Gleason after he ran Cory Conacher and the end of the second period. The Hurricanes make the Isles pay with a powerplay goal early in the third, fomenting those familiar Islanders fan third-period doubts. No matter, Mikhail Grabovski to the rescue, potting a nice goal in the upper corner after Ryan Strome won a battle with Jay Harrison in the corner to feed the pass out front.
Not So Fast: Lest Nelson or Boychuk enjoy their early points leads...Tavares had three assists himself. (Also: Ryan Strome had a pair.)
Jamie McLennan on Grabovski: "The analytics guys love Grabovski, say he's a great possession guy. He also has deceptive skill. Yes, Strome does the work on this goal, but this is a difficult shot Grabovski makes to beat Cam Ward."
Let's Talk about the Goaltending, Not the Penalty Kill: I'll continue to fault most of the goals against issues from last season on the weak goaltending. But ultimately, Halak too gave up the "standard three" we were used to last season, and two power play goals conceded made the PK look bad. (One of them, Halak should've stopped on the low-angle by Eric Staal. The other, he "never had a chance" as the puck hit Nathan Gerbe's skate in front and looped over Halak.)
The more frightening goal against was Chris Terry's one-timer created by a wide-open lane for a cross-ice pass. That was against a tired Isles top line.
Pile Ons: If we're counting little snapshots, Brian Strait and Griffin Reinhart had the lowest Corsi for the night among the defensive pairs. Up front, so did the Tavares line and the Frans Nielsen line.
Firsts and Debuts and Such
Again, Boychuk, Grabovski, Halak all impressed. Boychuk, who led the Isles with over 23 minutes, made some noise:
Johnny Boychuk is 2nd defenseman in @NYIslanders history with at least 3 points in his team debut (Doug Crossman, 1-2--3 on Oct. 5, 1989).— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) October 11, 2014
And Nelson tied some...rather benign company:
The other new guys: And I didn't even mention Nick Leddy yet. But he was good, with multiple forays in deep, none of which burned him. Suspect Nikolai Kulemin had a very Kulemin game too: Quiet, but smart, the kind that will create scoring chances now and then but will be chiefly marked by responsible play.
The Captain Speaks
Tavares: "It's one game. We don't want to fall in love with it too much." #Isles— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) October 11, 2014
Too late! Fans are already there.
See you all tomorrow night for the rematch. Home opener. I hear there's a LHHer-style tailgate among the pre-partying.