The New York Islanders overcame a horrifying 0-2 deficit in the opening minutes to make a game of it, but in the end the predicted result came to fruition as they lost to the Carolina Hurricanes, 5-2 in Elmont in front of a bunch of alumni who’ve seen much better, and a bunch who experienced far worse.
After the Islanders tied it at 2-2 late in the first period, the second period was an even match and you’d be forgiven for getting your hopes up. But Sebastian Aho, the evil Finnish Hurricane, got the go-ahead goal late in the second, added an insurance marker early in the third, and completed a hat trick with an empty net goal.
For once this wasn’t a wasted stellar night by Ilya Sorokin, who only faced 25 shots as the Islanders shockingly outshot the Hurricanes.
But however they got there, the result remains the same: The Isles are in a tailspin and can’t buy more than two goals a game. They’ve played 11 games in 2023, and they’ve won only two of them, against the sad-sack Canucks and Canadiens. Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi.
With Cal Clutterbuck out and Hudson Fasching still out, Aatu Raty was recalled and the 20-year-old rookie returned to “the Nino” spot: On the fourth line, flanked by Matt Martin and Ross Johnston.
On the blueline, the more defensive-minded Parker Wotherspoon slotted back in for Dennis Cholowski.
50th Anniversary Season Alumni Reunion
I thought it a curious choice to wear the reverse-retro Fisherman unis on Alumni Weekend, but I suppose it throws a conciliatory bone to the alumni who lived through that era.
One of the outstanding things the Ledecky-Malkin ownership has done is open the org’s arms to ALL Islanders alumni, and you constantly hear them appreciate it. It’s not just the dynasty guys, it’s everyone. So you have Thomas Pock in the same celebration as Bobby Nystrom. On a human and tradition-building level, there is something really fantastic about that.
Original captain Ed Westfall plus the surviving 4-Cup dynasty members still got the ceremonial puck drop honor though.
Former #Isles Captain reflects with @Shannon_Hogan on his time with the @NYIslanders, who he was excited to see this weekend, and scoring the 10,000th goal in franchise history. pic.twitter.com/zQddtw5ZVF— Isles on MSGSN (@IslesMSGN) January 22, 2023
First Period: Disaster, recovery
Considering all those storied alumni were in the house, the Isles got off to the worst start imaginable: A goal conceded in the first minute — the earliest Ilya Sorokin has ever allowed in the NHL — and then a series of errors three minutes later to let Carolina take a 2-0 lead just 3:52 into the game.
The first goal came from normal offensive zone pressure, a point shot with traffic nicely redirected by Jordan Staal.
The second one was maddening. Anthony Beauvillier made a puzzling pull-up on the left wing boards, then sent a weak, bouncing pass back to the blueline that caught Alex Romanov flat-footed in no man’s land. Romanov made an effort to hold up his winger without interfering, but it was off to the races with Staal breaking down the right wing on his backhand.
Sorokin had to play the potential backhand shot honestly, but Staal’s cross crease pass went through Scott Mayfield’s legs and was an almost routine conversion for Jesper Fast.
Lane Lambert called a timeout. On the MSG broadcast with very recent Islander Thomas Hickey between the benches, Hickey gave a nice perspective on what a coach is saying at that time and what’s going through a player’s head. (Bad start, wake up — but 54 minutes left, so do the little things right, don’t cheat and try to get it all back right away.)
Things settled down a bit, but it felt like it would require something special for the Isles to get back in the game, rather than just play well and keep it 2-0, or 3-1 or 4-2, over the next 50 minutes.
They got that special thing, twice in a 1:40 span.
First Simon Holmstrom flashed his release from the high slot on a 1-on-2. It was just the kind of “F yeah!” boost they needed.
Where the hell did Holmstrom pull that from wowwww— jenny berman (@barzalline) January 22, 2023
Then Brock Nelson, who’s been in a goal drought (though he scored last game), made several smart moves on this play to make it 2-2 at 15:42. Peeled off the boards, threatened a shot to freeze Frederik Andersen while Beauvillier pulled the defenseman away, then swung a high-percentage wraparound try. The finishing touch was Teivo Teravainen’s stick ramping the puck up and in.
ALL STAR BROCK NELSON pic.twitter.com/D64YQ3kUJ8— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) January 22, 2023
Second Period: Much Aho-Aho fun
Matt Martin went off for a slash on the stick/glove behind the Hurricanes net, a possibly debatable call but an unnecessary risk given the location.
On the penalty kill, an entertaining exchange drew Andrei Svechnikov into combat with both Scott Mayfield and Romanov. As the officials sorted things out — they ended up giving Mayfield and Romanov minors and Svechkinov a pair of minors to keep it at 5-on-4 — MSG did a nice job showing all of the battles among the three of them in the preceding minute.
It was a nicely controlled, low-event period that probably deserved to end with the score still tied 2-2, but the Hurricanes got a nice bounce on a good rush to the net to make it 3-2 with 3:20 left in the period.
Teravainen sent the puck to the low slot where the Sebastian Ahos were battling for position. It appeared to hit both the Islander Aho’s skate and the Hurricane Aho’s stick, with the former’s toe helping provide the elevation.
That was one of several entertaining Aho :: Aho meetings on the night. The Islander had a few where he outraced his counterpart on defense. Then of course there was this goal, which went to the Cane, and a play late in the period that led to J-G Pageau taking a penalty.
Third Period: All Aho’d out
And then there was the Aho insurance goal. Islander Aho had played the puck out of the zone, then he was put in a tough situation with the puck sent right back to him. He tried to loft a cross but it was interrupted by Hurricane Aho, in the most dangerous possible spot, and Aho waltzed in and beat Sorokin to the high far corner.
That made it 4-2 at 7:09 and, yeah, honestly, it felt like that was the end.
The Islanders pulled Sorokin for a sixth attacker with over three minutes left, had to return him after an icing, then pulled him again which led to a few minutes of decent 6-on-5 possession. They generated one play where a golden chance went through the low slot past both Casey Cizikas and Zach Parise. Otherwise not too much.
The Evil Aho finished things and completed his hat trick with a sprint out of the Carolina zone following a faceoff.
Welp! They’re in Toronto on Monday. Tonight the Leafs lost in OT to a Canadiens team featuring names like Harvey-Pinard, Rem Pitlick and Michael Pezzetta. They’ll be ticked off, and you know they’ll have a grand old time.