The Florida Panthers returned to Brooklyn for the first time since April 24, 2016. You might know it better as Game 6 of the Atlantic Division Semifinal (thank the NHL for the confusion of playing in a new division for the playoffs). They had a much different look from the last time they were here, however. Most obviously, they have a completely new logo and accompanying jersey kit.
Aside from the makeover of their uniforms, they also almost entirely re-tooled their defense with an analytical bent, adding Mark Pysyk, Keith Yandle, and Jason Demers (all excellent players) through various acquisitions while losing Brian Campbell, Dmitry Kulikov, and Jakub Kindl, among others. They lost an ageless wonder in Campbell, but luckily they have another in Jaromir Jagr.
The front office's analytical revolution also arguably led to the axing of coach Gerard Gallant, who was infamously left waiting for a taxi in Raleigh following the firing. GM Tom Rowe moved behind the bench.
First Period: Cat nap (not at first though)
The first period began with a touching ceremony and ceremonial puck-drop for longtime Islanders commentator Jiggs McDonald, and he took over following the first commercial break (though Brendan Burke hung out with Shannon and offered his commentary).
Before that first break, though, the Panthers got on the board after Thomas Greiss casually blockered the puck away. The rebound bounced out to Keith Yandle, and Greiss missed a save he probably should have had. I'll let Alex Novet explain the Isles' issues further:
One example of why I think passive play leads to "bad bounces". Isles don't hold line, keep 1st shot to outside, but it creates rebound https://t.co/H9suXElZmi— Alex Novet (@GhostofNyles) January 12, 2017
Jack Capuano likes to shake his lines up a bit when he doesn't like the flow of the game, often to our chagrin, and he sent Tavares out to center Clutterbuck and Nikolay Kulemin at one point. Headaches! This team gives me headaches!
Amazingly enough, Capuano's tactics seemed to work. The team clearly woke up and took control of play as Nick Leddy evened the score. Roberto Luongo played a dump-in behind his net, and the puck ended up on the stick of Cal Clutterbuck. He dished to Casey Cizikas, and Cizikas found Leddy at the point, sending a floater past a screened Luongo. Tied at 1.
Johnny Boychuk, as he is wont to do, sent a hard slapper right off the post, but it was perhaps only able to hit the post because of Jason Chimera tackling Luongo. The best chance on the ensuing Cats' power play, however, belonged to the Isles when Clutterbuck carried over the blue line in alone and sent a handcuffer that fooled ol' Lu but didn't go in. Neither did the rebound that Cizikas corralled and threw at his skates.
Second Period: Island snooze
The Panthers took the lead back less than a minute and a half into the second frame when Jason Demers snapped a wrist shot off a face-off. The puck deflected off the leg of Dennis Seidenberg and into the net.
It seemed there was not much love lost between these two clubs since their meeting in the playoffs, despite the large amount of turnover for both clubs between last season and this. Among them included a little tussle between Anders Lee and middle-aged father Aaron Ekblad, who was probably on edge, what with his kids being home from college.
The refs and linesmen must have been in a rush, as they played about 13 minutes without hitting a commercial break. There were two or three whistles during this time, all of which were icings.
While the Isles had the better of play in the first period, the Cats gained control throughout the second. Shots were 12-7 Isles after the first; Florida threw 16 shots at nets as opposed to the Islanders' 6 in the second.
Third Period: Islanders drink some coffee at first commercial break, to no avail
No SOG for either team through 6:30 of 3rd.— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) January 12, 2017
A terribly boring half-period (seriously, after this happened around the 12:00 mark, shots were 2-0 Isles... TWO-NOTHING) finally got a jolt of life when a 3-on-2 chance developed for the Isles, Alan Quine carrying over the blue line and creating a "heeled" (according to Butch Goring) shot for Ryan Strome. Strome regained the puck and fed Thomas Hickey for a nice chance from the point. This opportunity invigorated the Islanders, getting the Panthers to drop into a shell. At one point, shots were 11-1 Isles for the period.
The Islanders thought they might have stuffed one past Luongo shortly after this, when Tavares tried to sneak one from behind the goal, and the rebound popped out to Lee.
The fourth line for the Islanders also created a ruckus down in front of the net, nearly scoring a goal and antagonizing Luongo to the point that he started throwing gloved punches. The result was a 4-on-4 in which nothing of large significance occurred.
This altercation, however, escalated an already physical game. Tavares was very lucky he wasn't called for a penalty on nasty cross-check in the back of Jagr, though perhaps he was spared because of a retaliatory but also uncalled punch to the back of his head from Vincent Trocheck.
The last time the Panthers were here, they looked as though they were on their way to a one-goal victory before Tavares converted with the extra attacker in the final minute (we all know what happened next). The Islanders would be forced to pull Greiss yet again, but this time they were not so lucky. They had a couple of chances with their net empty, but fell short and lost their third straight.
The Isles and Panthers will meet again on Friday night in Sunrise, Florida, to complete the home-and-home series. Perhaps Anthony Beauvillier makes a return to the lineup in place of, let's say, Chimera, whose only notable contribution to tonight's contest was his goaltender interference penalty. Sucks that Jiggsy's last Isles game ended this way, but hopefully he makes a cameo later in the season.