Brock Blows Into Carolina, Islanders Hammer Hurricanes

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There has been a lot of talk around the NHL about the Islanders as of late. People have been predicting not only a playoff berth, but a postseason series win (or two). But, that is all conjecture. It’s all talk until the real games start. Well, tonight the season finally kicked off. After 180 days of waiting, the Islanders were ready, and they showed it.

The 2014-15 Islanders season began in Raleigh, NC, as the Islanders took on the Carolina Hurricanes. The first period started off in predictable fashion. Each team took a while to get its legs. As the pace picked up, so did the Islanders’ play.

At 15:36 of the first period, Brad Malone took a holding penalty. The Islanders’ power play unit didn’t have a lot going for it early on. There didn’t seem to be a lot of chances at the net. But, that all changed when 1:17 after the initial Carolina penalty, Jay Harrison took a high-sticking penalty. The Islanders were about to have a two-man-advantage. Smartly, John Tavares gave the puck up immediately, preserving as much time on the 5-on-3 as possible.

The Isles would be rewarded shortly thereafter. Just 13 seconds into the two-man-advantage, Johnny Boychuk, one of the two newest Islanders, took a pass from Kyle Okposo and ripped a one-timer past Cam Ward to give the Isles the early 1-0 lead. But, the Islanders weren’t done. With time expiring on the second of the two penalties, Brock Nelson took a pass from Tavares and wristed it over the glove of Ward to give the Isles a 2-0 lead. While it was technically not a power play goal, it might as well have been one, as Harrison hadn’t fully returned to the ice yet.

The Islanders expanded their lead in the second period at 7:38. The man who was involved in everything tonight, Nelson, deflected a shot from Boychuk off of his body and past Ward to give the Islanders a 3-0 advantage. The period ended with Tavares getting a roughing penalty for coming to the aid of Cory Conacher, who was being roughed up along the boards. Tavares explained to Shannon Hogan of MSG+ after the period that “we are all a family out there.” He explained that when he saw his teammate getting pushed around, he decided he had to come in and help. Penalty or not, that is what builds great teams; teamwork and camaraderie.

The Hurricanes went into the third period on the power play, and they made the Islanders pay. Nathan Gerbe took a shot off of his skate, and despite the best efforts of Travis Hamonic, the puck trickled into the goal behind Jarsolav Halak. The play was looked at in Toronto, but it was upheld upon the review.

At 3-1, you could be thinking, “OK, here we go again. Same old Islanders. Just watch them blow this.” But not this time; not this version of the club. You could tell the Isles were not getting down on themselves. The ‘Canes did have a couple of rushes after the goal, but nothing significant. The Isles were still playing with confidence, and it showed. Just 3:46 after the Carolina goal, the Islanders answered right back. Mikhail Grabovski, another new Islander addition, took a pass from Ryan Strome and put the puck past Ward to make it 4-1.

The score stayed that way until 12:11 of the third. Hamonic took a pass from, who else, Nelson, and wristed a shot around Ward at the far post to give the Isles a 5-1 lead.

Carolina did get two goals towards the end of the game, however, that did little more than pad their stats and make the game look a lot closer than it truly was.

The Isles skated away with an impressive 5-3 Opening Night victory.

Tonight’s Takeaways

  • The offense looked spot on. The team was clicking on all cylinders. Yes, Carolina was missing a couple of vital pieces, but the Isles also were down a few important bodies themselves.
  • The defense played some excellent hockey as well. They allowed just one even-strength goal and allowed just 26 shots to get to Halak.
  • Boychuk made a huge difference out there. He wound up with three points (1G, 2A) on the night.
  • Nelson was all over the ice tonight. He wound up a +2 plus-minus, with two goals and two assists. You can’t ask for more than that.
  • Conacher was noticeable in a few spots, but Nelson really showed he belongs on the first line. Obviously, you don’t mess with success, but I would expect to see Nelson on that top line if Conacher struggles over the next month.
  • Griffin Reinhart will have some growing pains. Denis Potvin he’s not, but let’s give him some time. He didn’t make any real glaring errors, but he wasn’t really a huge part of the success tonight either.
  • John Tavares. What can you say? He just keeps getting better. He shows that you don’t always have to score goals to help your team. He had three assists and the aforementioned roughing minor.
  • The power play unit looked great tonight; the players really seemed to click. For all intents and purposes, they scored on all three of their opportunities.
  • The penalty kill unit, by comparison, looked just OK.  The ‘Canes did go 2-5 on the power play, but the last goal was late, and shouldn’t be taken as a sign of a late comeback.
  • Halak looked great. He has tremendous lateral movement and came up with some key saves when the game was still close. If he can stay healthy, he can really help this team go a long way. It’s been a long time since they had a solid, young goaltender. He did let in a couple of softies at the end, but we will chalk that up to the game basically being over, and possibly because of some Opening Night jitters. He was definitely not pleased with himself after at least one of the goals. He will shake it off and likely be back in net tomorrow night.
  • Nelson, Boychuk, and Tavares were named the Three Stars of the Game, respectively.
  • The Isles and ‘Canes will renew hostilities tomorrow night on Long Island in the second game of a home-and-home series. It will be the last home opener ever for the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum

Brock Blows Into Carolina, Islanders Hammer Hurricanes
Eric Bordin