The wai-i-iting is the hardest part...
No more waiting... HOCKEY’S BACK, ISLES FANS!
The New York Islanders played their first regular season hockey game in 180 days on Friday night. It was the team debut for former all-star and newlywed Jordan Eberle, as well as the beginning of the Matthew Barzal era (but, for some reason, not the Josh Ho-Sang era).
Unfortunately, the long-awaited season opener did not go as well as hoped. Columbus dominated from the opening minutes to take the victory, 5-0. Not a good effort from the Isles.
Just one minute into the game, Thomas Greiss misplayed a puck behind the Isles net and he paid dearly for it. Jackets ring winger Oliver Bjorkstrand gathered the puck behind the goal-line and fed Massapequa-born Sonny Milano in the slot for his first career goal against his hometown team to put Columbus on the board, 1-0. Milano grew up an Isles fan 10 miles from the Coliseum and scored his first NHL goal against them. Pretty darn cool.
Side note: Last year, Capitals winger T.J. Oshie called the Nationwide Arena cannon the “worst thing in hockey.” I tend to agree. The whole meshing of AC/DC with Civil War artillery and then a “woh-oh-oh” rift from an indie pop song is a bit off-putting. (I’d probably love it if I was a Columbus fan, but alas, I’m not, so I’ll rant against it.)
The Islanders put together some nice shifts in the middle part of the first period; Eberle and John Tavares seemed to have some nice chemistry going, a promising sign for the top line. But then the home team struck again.
Cam Atkinson picked off a really bad Calvin de Haan pass, played a give-and-go with Artemi Panarin and then Atkinson deflected in a pass in front of the net. 2-0, Blue Jackets, and the cannon went off again. The officials reviewed whether or not Atkinson kicked it in, determined that there was no distinct forward foot-motion, and confirmed the goal. Then the cannon fired again after the official announcement. (Seriously guys?)
Not a good start from the Islanders. Shots on goal were 14-8 in favor of Columbus (shot attempts 22-21 for CBJ) but defensive miscues proved costly.
Alex Wennberg cycled the puck to Panarin behind the net, who fed it in front to Ryan Murray, who sniped a wrister at the crux between the crossbar and left post, and into the net to give the Blue Jackets a 3-0 lead. Dennis Seidenberg seemed most responsible, as he was caught puck-watching and lost track of Murray as Ryan Pulock looked on from the arena suites.
The Islanders top line had a flurry of chances shortly thereafter, including a Tavares wrister that hit Sergei Bobrovsky in the mask, one of the few times he was seriously tested.
Ten minutes into the period, Mathew Barzal slashed Zack Werenski, the first penalty of the game. On the power play, Werenski fluttered a puck in from the blue line. Greiss lost track of the puck behind a Columbus screen, and allowed the fourth goal of the game to put the game out of reach
Just 85 seconds later, Columbus winger Pierre-Luc Dubois, who was picked third overall in 2016 after Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine, scored his first career goal in his NHL debut to make the score 5-0. That goal finally chased Greiss from the game and Jaroslav Halak made a premature season debut.
Later on, after the Isles killed a 4-on-3, Tavares rang a backhand off the post, the closest New York came to scoring in the game.
The highlight of the period for the Islanders came in the final minute, when Johnny Boychuk fought Matt Calvert. Boychuk landed about five right-handed slugs in before Calvert well to the ice under him. Two of the judges scored the fight 10-9 for Boychuk, while judge Adelaide Byrd had it 10-9 for Canelo Alvarez.
But wow, that period was ugly. Columbus sprayed 17 shots on goal as the New York defense was awful.
The outcome was already determined and Columbus was kind of going through the motions, so take it with a grain of salt BUT according to possession numbers, the Islanders controlled the majority of play the third period.
Islanders player of the game
Jaroslav Halak pitched a shutout in his 28:50, including some really fine saves with about six minutes left in regulation. Good work, Jaro. Follow it up with some more like it in the home opener.
Stat of the game
0:00 - Josh Ho-Sang’s time on ice, as he was a healthy scratch. Feel free to discuss some more in the comments section.
GIF of the game
Look, Greiss made a save!
The Isles have a date with Kyle Okposo and the Buffalo Sabres in the home opener on Saturday night at Barclays Center. The Sabres lost to the Montreal Canadiens 3-2 via shootout in their season opener on Thursday.
The Islanders went 2-0-1 against the Sabres last season.