photo credit: msgnetworks.com
It has been nearly 120 days since the last New York Islanders played in a game. Tonight, that changed as the Islanders squared off against the New York Rangers in Madison Square Garden to kickstart the 2020-21 NHL season. After losing to eventual Stanley Cup Champions the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Finals, the boys were on a mission to pick up where they left off and continue the drive for five.
And they did just that.
The Islanders had an offseason with highs and lows. They would lose defensemen Johnny Boychuk or a career-ending eye injury, the trade of Devon Toews, the constant anxiety of Mat Barzal and his RFA status, and more. To begin the start of training camp, nearly every NHL analyst ruled the Islanders out of playoff contention immediately, still giving the team no respect or credit where it’s due, while also saying their appearance in the east finals was a fluke (keep sleeping on the Islanders, just adds fuel to the fire, they’ll learn eventually). So it’s probably safe to say that the boys are playing with a little fire under their backsides now, and they showed this on Thursday evening.
The game started at a high pace of play, the Islanders wasted no time getting on the board, roughly two minutes in to be exact. The Islanders' power play would be led by an early dose of Brocktober to take a 1-0 lead. The Isles put the Rangers on their heels early, leading to another quick goal a minute and nineteen seconds later from Anders Lee to take a 2-0 lead. The Islanders' special teams would go to work this period, with three power-play chances, going 1-for-3 in the process, while also having a successful penalty kill. Mathew Barzal would extend this lead to 3-0 with 6:29 remaining in the first on a beautiful snipe over Igor Shesterkin's shoulder.
The second period didn’t have a ton to talk about. The Islanders would bring their power play to 2-for-5 on the night with a goal credited to Anders Lee, which would have been his second (and should have been his second), but was later credited to Jordan Eberle. The Rangers almost found their way onto the scoresheet after defensemen Jacob Trouba poked home a goal. The official however did not have sight of the puck and blew the whistle. After a review, the call was upheld and the score remained 4-0. Pageau and Lemieux would exchange words and get into a shoving match after the final whistle, and both would start the third period in the sin bin.
Period three was, well, eventful. Rangers Tony DeAngelo started the period with two minor penalties for holding and unsportsmanlike conduct. Shortly after Rangers’ Kevin Rooney was involved in a scary accidental collision with Ross Johnston, likely giving him a concussion as he left the game. Best wishes go out to him. Within seconds later, Ebs would run into goaltender Igor Shesterkin to try to give the Isles a 5-0 lead, where it looked as if now Igor was hurt too. Luckily he got back up and finished the game, however, the officials deemed this a good goal. After a coach's challenge, the goal would be overturned and the game would remain 4-0. The Islanders would go to the power play one more time to end the game, and they would leave the world's most famous arena with a victory and a fantastic Semyon Varlamov shutout.
We waited a long time for this game and the boys did not disappoint. However, there are some things to work on. Although the Islanders had two power-play goals, they still would finish the night 2-for-8. I totally get that you aren’t going to score every time, and the Rangers had some excellent pressure on a few of them, but I would have liked to see one or two more. To give credit where it's due, they should have really been 4-for-8 with missed chances in front, but Shesterkin just beat the Islanders in those moments and prevented any more damage. The penalty kill was stellar, going a perfect 4-for-4. Varlamov played absolutely outstanding, making big saves and had great postioning to read all the Rangers shots. It was very hard to even try to single out any player for having a bad game because everybody looked great in the season opener.
photo credit: lastwordonsports.com
Silent Player of the Game: Kieffer Bellows
Kieffer Bellows made his season debut in silent, yet impactful fashion. Although he did not record a point, he still laid 8 hits and was an impactful player for the Islanders' defensive game, as well as setting up some nice passes. If the Trotz mantra of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” upholds, expect to see him play again on Saturday.