Coliseum Opens Its Doors, Islanders Complete Sweep Of Hurricanes

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The final home opener in the history of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum ended up being a success for the home team, both on and off the ice, as the New York Islanders defeated the Carolina Hurricanes for the second time in two nights by a score of 4-3.

With fans sleeping in their cars at the Marriott Hotel across the Coliseum parking lot the night before, Saturday’s party got started early on Hempstead Turnpike. By 1 p.m. on game day, thousands of people had set up their tents, fired up their grills, and were riding out the last of rain showers that were moving through the area.

When the doors opened or pregame warmups, the loudest non game-related “LET’S–GO–ISLAN–DERS” chants resonated up to the Coliseum rafters. To close out opening night ceremonies, the Islanders game operations crew went in a different direction, choosing to forgo individual player introductions in favor of a team-oriented entrance. The entire roster skated onto the ice following a video commemorating all of the great events that had taken place inside the building.

It was unique, different, and well planned. It was what the Coliseum deserved.

Throughout the game, the crowd was electric, something the players noticed when talking about the game atmosphere in the locker room after the final horn:

“It was awesome,” said center Brock Nelson. “The fans really energized us tonight and stayed with us from beginning to end. It was great to be able to get a win for them.”

“It was crazy. The last time we heard it like that was in the playoffs. From the time we were getting ready in the locker room, we could hear it. On the way in this morning for meetings, people were out tailgating already. I think that can’t help but get you fired up and put a smile on your face. We definitely fed off it,” added Josh Bailey.

Nelson is off to a fantastic start this season, playing in his natural center position. The Islanders forward picked up his team-leading third goal of the season and added another assist, bringing his two-game point total to six. He scored another goal off a deflection, the product of going to the net and planting himself in an area of opportunity.

“In the third, we were grinding it down, keeping the puck down low, hemming them in. When you can do that with a two-goal lead, you put doubt in their minds,” Nelson commented.

Much-maligned winger Josh Bailey also got on the scoresheet for the first time this year, taking a picture-perfect cross-ice backhand feed from Frans Nielsen and going up top on Anton Khudobin late in the second period to give New York a 4-2 lead. It was the kind of skill from Bailey that needs to be seen more often: a quick release and laser-like accuracy. Bailey was also defensively responsible all game long, and spoke about holding onto a lead at home:

“I think we stuck with it at the end. When times got tough, we got better. Set out to get four points this weekend and we did that. We were calm and fired up at the same time, if that’s possible. We knew what we had to do. We dominated the third period, which is something we struggled with last year.”

The Islanders have a different feel to their style of play this year, from the goaltending on out. Defensively, a noticeable calm seems to have replaced the jittery play we witnessed last year. The Stanley Cup pedigree that Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy have brought to Long Island is clearly having a ripple effect throughout the entire back line. Not to mention the forwards, who are very noticeable on the backcheck and in the defensive zone, coming down into the low slot with increased frequency.

“I think we believe in one another and what the coaches are preaching. We are happy with the start but are not going to get ahead of ourselves. There are still 80 games to go. It’s not going to be easy,” Bailey said.

Now the tough part of the schedule approaches, with the New York Rangers, San Jose Sharks, and Pittsburgh Penguins all on the docket for next week. For the Islanders, it was an important four points (of a possible four) this weekend and a positive start to the new season, but plenty of work still remains.

 

Tip-Ins:

  • John Tavares is clearly leading by example: determined play, outstanding passing, a laser for his first goal, and a ton of fire from the captain. It’s clear he realizes the importance of the win-now attitude for the Isles this season.
  • Boychuk paced the Islanders (again) with 23:55 ice time and recorded another two assists, giving him five points on the young season. He seems to be enjoying his increased responsibility, especially on the power play.
  • Nick Leddy is very noticeable with his transition pass out of the Islanders’ defensive zone. You can see the positive lessons he’s taken with him from Chicago.
  • Something still doesn’t seem right with Brian Strait. After suffering from a back ailment last year, he does not look to be at 100 percent, especially skating-wise.
  • Lubomir Visnovsky and Michael Grabner were both around the Islanders dressing room post-game and looked none the worse for wear. Grabner will be out until December; there is no exact timetable on Visnovsky.
  • Cory Conacher continues to show he can play with skilled players, as he scored his first goal as an Islander and showed determination on the forecheck. He came back to prevent a 2-on-1 in the second period with speed, something the coaches notice and appreciate.
  • Nikolay Kulemin is going to have a solid season, but not on the scoresheet. Watch what he does away from the puck. As part of the defense-oriented third line, he (and Bailey and Nielsen) will shut down opposing teams one shift at a time.
  • Griffin Reinhart is still playing very tentatively. Head coach Jack Capuano put him and Strait out late in the third, much to the chagrin of the home crowd.
  • When Calvin de Haan and Visnovsky return from injury, I can see Carkner and Reinhart going back to Bridgeport with Strait and Matt Donovan battling for the seventh spot on the depth chart.

 

Next Up:

Islanders at New York Rangers, Tuesday, Oct. 14, 7 p.m.

 

Coliseum Opens Its Doors, Islanders Complete Sweep Of Hurricanes
Andy Graziano