October 6, 2007

Islanders win Season Opener 6-4

All the waiting finally came to an end on Friday night with the drop of the puck in Buffalo. Although the Sabres scored the first goal 2:56 into the game, coming from Jaroslav Spacek with 4 seconds left in the first power play of the game, the Islanders never gave up in what became a seesaw battle.

Josef Vasicek scored the Islander's first goal of the year at 9:16 of the first to tie the game at 1. Buffalo answered shortly after that, with Derek Roy scoring on a nice one-time pass from Maxim Afinogenov and 12:04. The Islanders scored the next 2 goals, both power play goals, 34 seconds apart. The first goal came from Ruslan Fedotenko, off a nice pass from new captain Bill Guerin. The second goal was scored by Chris Campoli off a nice pass from Fedotenko right to the front of the net, where Campoli snuck in and parked right in front of Sabres' net minder Ryan Miller. Drew Stafford scored the last goal of the period, off of a bad clearing attempt by the Islanders and a poor defensive play by Marc-Andre Bergeron in front of Rick DiPietro. The first period ended with the game tied at 3.

Things settled down in the 2nd period as only 3 goals were scored; 2 by the Isles and one by the Sabres. Comrie scored 7:35 into the period on a great touch pass from Fedotenko, who found Comrie in front of a wide open with Miller too far to the left in the crease. Thomas Vanek scored on an unconventional breakaway shot, a slapper from 15 feet out. The wind up seemed to catch DiPietro off guard, and the game was tied at 4. Comrie scored once again, at 16:04 of the period on a nice breakaway pass to himself. On a loose puck, Comrie chipped the puck forward and raced past Sabres' defenseman Toni Lydman and shot the puck off of the crossbar and past Miller. The Islanders would score once more in the game, on a power play in the 3rd period. Trent Hunter got the goal on a scramble in front of the net and chipped the puck past miller and it trickled into the net.

Although it was just one game, it is always nice to win the season opener. For the Islanders, that is a very rare occurrence. It was only the 2nd time in the past 14 years the team won to open a season. The last time came on October 5th, 2001, a season that became one of the greatest seasons in Islander history. One of the big story lines of the game was the new and much improved first line. Here's how they fared:

Mike Comrie: 2 goals, 2 assists
Bill Guerin: 0 goals, 3 assists
Ruslan Fedotenko: 1 goal, 2 assists

That is a combined 3 goals and 7 assists from the top line. Even if it was the first game of the year, one must keep in mind that these 3 did the same things in preseason, when they were playing the same way they played last night. In the three preseason games the trio played in, the team went 3-0.

The power play also looked much improved and had a much different feel to it as well. The coaches did a good job of revamping that. The team went 3 for 4 on the power play, and the team only took 3 penalties themselves, which was very rare for them to do last season. The play a much more disclipined game it seems.

The defense still needs some work, but for the 2nd half of the 2nd period and all of the 3rd the Isles seemed more comfortable and were able to shutdown the Sabres. The paring of Radek Martinek and Brendan Witt looked very solid. Earlier in the day, the Isles re-signed Martinek to a 3 year contract, and I can see why. When healthy Martinek is very solid out there, and was the best Isles defenseman last night.

The Isles outshout the Sabres in the 3rd 11-5, and 34-26 for the game, also a rarity last season. The team appears much more faster than last years and much more resilient. They play as a cohesive unit, and most of that stems from new captain Bill Guerin. It's the little things that count and Bill Guerin did so many of the little things right that it made me happy to watch. If this franchise is going to gain some respect back, Bill Guerin will have a huge part in that matter. Not only with his play on the ice, but his rep with the refs, his voice on the bench, in the lockeroom and his service around the community.

Some will argue that the Sabres aren't good anymore after losing Chris Drury to the Rangers and Danny Briere to the Flyers, but they really aren't paying attention to the NHL. Despite those losses, the Sabres still have a very high powered offense. Vanek scored 43 goals last year and had 84 points. Derek Roy had 63 points in 75 games, while Afinogenov had 61 points in just 56 games. The 3 made up the Sabres 3rd line last year. That is a first line on every other team in the league, and is a first line for the Sabres this season with the departure of Drury and Briere. The Sabres still have Jason Pomminville, Jochen Hecht, Tim Connolly, Ales Kotalik and Paul Gaustad among others. Many of these players are young and still up and coming and some will even put up big numbers this season with increased roles. Not to mention the defense is still in tact from last year, and they still have Ryan Miller in net.

It is very encouraging to see a team go into an opponents building and win a hard fought game. Its even more difficult to do it at your opponents home opener, when they are raising their presidents trophy banner from being the best team in the NHL last season. It is a feat the Isles should be proud of. However, with the Isles home opener tonight against the Sabres, I would imagine they are looking to return the favor. The Isles need to tighten up defensively and try to keep things simple. Their offense has proved to be much faster than last years, and they will get their opportunities on that front. Draw some penalties, get a goal or 2 on the power play and play good defensively and things will be fine. Just don't get too confident over last night as Buffalo will certainly be making adjustments going into tonight's game.

I will be there in section 338, cheering on the Islanders. Sean will be there, but I'm not sure where yet. Here's to a 2-0 start for 07-08!


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