October 12, 2014

Isles hold off Tlusty, Canes to Win Final Coliseum Opener

The Islanders opened the home schedule of their final season at the Nassau Coliseum in the only possible way you could have scripted it, with a 4-3 win over the Carolina Hurricanes in an atmosphere that certainly had a playoff vibe.

As usual, I was a part of the sellout crowd and to say the fanbase tore the roof off the building would be a fair statement. The amount of energy that came out after John Tavares opening the scoring just over three minutes into the game was truly something special.

The ceremony at the beginning set the tone, with the players coming out as a team in lieu of a normal player-by-player introduction to start the season. This was a cool touch, fitting into the "team" aspect the Isles are trying to instill while going forward with their "We Play for You" slogan. I think it was something that caught everyone off guard but made the moments before the final home opener in the building just that much more special.

The Isles definitely fed off of this momentum, despite not playing as good as they did Friday night in the season opener.

We saw the Islanders continue their PK struggle, as they allowed the Canes to set-up their powerplay from the half-wall. Passes came towards the slot area which allowed Jiri Tlusty to set up two of his three goals on the evening.

Johnny Boychuk provided more of what we came to love of him in the first game, and he connected with Brock Nelson for another tip-in to break the 2-2 tie after the first period.

Photo by Chris Hessel
In his first game for the club, Chad Johnson looked good and made some key saves. However, his one blunder did come in the third period when he gift wrapped Tlusty's hat trick after misplaying a puck into the slot area with Brian Strait to his left and expecting the puck to get through. Griffin Reinhart lost his battle in the corner which allowed the puck to get towards the net in the first place. Reinhart has had a solid NHL debut no doubt but had a few moments in this game where he got caught flat footed. He'll learn that as he plays more games but fortunately it didn't do anything to harm the Islanders too much.

As mentioned Tavares had another fine outing with the powerplay goal to kick things off, however his pass to Cory Conacher was a thing of beauty. It was a great play by Kyle Okposo to get the puck on net to a shaky Anton Khudobin, and a real heads-up move by Tavares to streak up the middle of the slot area to crash the net. Everything on that line seems to be working well because they definitely generated plenty of chances on Saturday night.

Josh Bailey even got into the party, scoring off of a very nice play by Frans Nielsen. Bailey's goal provided the insurance the Isles would eventually need but it really gave us an idea for how fortunate we are to have three strong centers on this team right now between Tavares, Nielsen and Nelson.

Although the Islanders did not trail for any part of the game, there were some scary moments in the third period, particularly in the dying minutes. There was an awful lot of standing around and not enough movement, and this team will tell you that they aren't at their best when their legs aren't churning. It served as a reminder of what we saw last year when the Isles had their fair share of issues in closing out games but when push came to shove they were finally able to get the puck out of the zone and keep it from harms way.

It was an enjoyable experience, a perfect outcome for what will hopefully be a very good season of hockey for the team. Starting the season 2-0 is a huge step in the right direction, but now the Isles will have to turn around and go to battle against teams that are a step better than the Hurricanes. This week will see some tough opponents, the next of which will be the New York Rangers on Tuesday night. The Rangers will play their home opener on Sunday night against the Maple Leafs, although many will look to this game to get more of that "homecoming" feeling for them. As they figure things out without Brad Richards and Dan Boyle (broken hand) this would be a perfect time for the Isles to pounce and really pick up steam heading to the rest of the month.

- Chris

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