Tonight's home opener at Nassau Coliseum was bound to be intriguing no matter what happened. Turns out that the Islanders final season kick-off in their ancestral home was a highly entertaining affair with a playoff-like atmosphere and all of the elements hockey fans love. And if tonight's 4-3 win over the Hurricanes was any indication of what we can expect from the Islanders this year, I suggest you hold on to your butts.
Right from the jump, the game had a raucous energy not often seen at home openers. Tailgaters - some already stationed outside the Coliseum at 10 a.m. and waking up Marriott-resident Johnny Boychuk, according to Howie Rose - were in full throat throughout the opening cell phone-lit ceremonies. The Islanders forewent individual player introductions that Arthur Staple says may have been their captain's doing. In the dark arena, the team circled the center ice logo and saluted the fans, who in turn spent almost the entire game saluting them right back.
The game got off to a furious start and the Islanders cashed in early on a Carolina penalty, which would be a recurring theme. With Islanders nemesis Nathan Gerbe off for hooking, John Tavares blasted a laser underneath the crossbar behind Anton Khudobin for his first of the season. The assists went to Brock Nelson and Boychuk, who have been the Islanders' catalysts through these first two games and would hook up again for another goal.
Later, with Travis Hamonic in the box for a (frankly bullshit) hooking penalty, the Islanders work-in-progress penalty kill allowed the Hurricanes to tie. During some loose play in the box, Brian Strait lost his stick and the puck squirted to Jiri Tlusty, who was skating across the slot and who then wristed it past Hi, I'm Chad Johnson.
Eleven seconds after Tlusty's tying goal, the Islanders took the lead back thanks to Tavares' reach and Cory Conacher's speed. Khudobin bobbled a dump-in and Tavares stretched out between defenders to corral the puck and send it across the slot to a streaking Conacher who had a third of the net to shoot it in.
Tlusty would strike again just before the whistle with Matt Martin in the box for tripping. Strait blocked a shot that again found Tlusty's stick. He passed to Eric Staal and Johnson shaded to the left in anticipation of a Staal shot. But Stall sent it right back to Tlusty for his second goal of the game.
No one wants to fire up the scapewagon two games into the season, but Strait has seemed a step behind his teammates in both games and isn't making much of a case for himself to remain in the line-up if and when Calvin deHaan or Lubomir Visnovsky are ready to return from injury.
Again the Islanders got off the fast start and by now, after four periods of play, the chippiness level started to rise. Twice Josh Bailey, who was excellent all game along with linemates Frans Nielsen and Nikolay Kulemin, parked himself in front of the net and twice scrums broke out. In one, Tim Gleason tried to behead Bailey by two-handing his stick across Bailey's neck. Gleason ended up in the box as did John Tavares for
some reason trying to punch Gleason right in the kisser, Alice.
With Alexander Semin in the box for a high stick on Casey Cizikas, the Islanders power play cashed in again thanks to the Dynamic Duo of Boychuk's Blast and Nelson's Knees. The puck slid towards dead center of the blueline and Boychuk intercepted and shot into a crowd in front of Khudobin. As it did on Friday night, the puck bounced off of Brock Nelson's leg and in.
Nelson was pushed right after he scored and the aggression continued, culminating in Matt Martin knocking down Staal near the Hurricanes face-off circle. Staal, who has a history of concussions, lay on the ice for a minute while Martin fought Jay Harrison. Staal would try a few more shifts after the hit, but left the game midway through the third. Carolina is already without Jeff Skinner and Jordan Staal. To lose their captain might cement the pole position in the Connor McDavid Derby.
An exciting last few minutes saw the Islanders kill off a Hamonic penalty and pad their lead on a last second goal that needs to be analyzed frame-by-frame immediately by someone much smarter than me.
With the Hurricanes pressing, Kulemin hounded defenseman Andrej Sekera near the Islanders blue line for a good minute. Kulemin was on Sekera like a cheap Halloween costume until he wandered near the benches and coughed up the puck to Bailey. Bailey fed Kulemin who in turn passed to an in-stride Nielsen. With four seconds remaining, Nielsen sent a Danish Backhand Pass of Benevolence to the trailing Bailey who rifled it from one knee past Khudobin.
Oh god. Two goal lead in the third period. This won't end well.
Except it did. For 15 minutes, it was among the most uneventful third periods we've seen in a long time. And it was glorious. The Islanders even killed off a too many men penalty without allowing a shot or even a clean entry to the Hurricanes.
But a giveaway by Johnson handed Tlusty his second career hat trick on a silver platter. A good read and pin along the boards by Griffin Reinhart caused the puck to shoot into the slot. Johnson came out to play it but whiffed and left it there for Tlusty to knock home. Tlusty has something like 47 goals against the Islanders in 11 career games but that might not be accurate.
So here it comes, right? The giant embarrassing collapse that leaves a trusting, win-deprived crowd pissed off and depressed about getting suckered back in again. Nope. The Islanders killed off the last three minutes allowing only a few pucks near Johnson. A weak clear by Bailey kept the Islanders hemmed in a little too long and an icing led to a defensive zone face-off, but the Islanders remained calm and, eventually, claimed victory.
Two games, two wins against a depleted, beatable opponent. That's good. But Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden against the reigning Eastern Conference champions is going to require better penalty killing, less missed assignments and a general tightening of team defense.
Until then, enjoy your Columbus Day long weekend. The forecast is sunny.
Enjoyed the Coli crowd yelling "Shoot it!" at Boychuk. Don't think you need to worry about that, folks.— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) October 12, 2014
Chad Johnson said Coliseum has a college-like atmosphere. Was humbled he got the start (and the win) for the final opener #Isles— Stephen (@StephenCLorenzo) October 12, 2014
John Tavares will rip your heart out and show it to you before you die.— Keith (@KeithLHHockey) October 12, 2014