Isles Issues #3: Reasons to be cheerful – Parts I, II, III

The Islanders’ season is up and running and the Isles are 2-1-0 from their first three games.

A perhaps fortunate win over the Carolina Hurricanes was followed up by a defeat to a strong Nashville Predators team, in which the Islanders turned in a spirited performance. That all culminated in an opening week high for the visit of the Sharks on Monday night – a time slow which tends to bring out the worst in the Islanders.

Against the Sharks, the Isles sealed their first home win, producing a convincing display – not least from one Robin Lehner, who became the first goalie in Islanders history to record a debut shutout.

The Islanders hit the ice on night two of the NHL season in Raleigh against the Canes and led when Valtteri Filppula opened up the Isles’ goal account with a patient five-hole shot on Petr Mrazek to put the Isle ahead in the second period at Carolina. The Canes certainly had chances and tied the game up in the third, but with Thomas Greiss, the surprise opening night starter, stopping 45 of 46 shots, it always felt that the Islanders could return home with a result and in overtime, Josh Bailey indeed sealed the win with a one-timer from the right circle, getting the Trotz/Lamoriello era off to a winning start.

Saturday night saw the Preds visit New York in the Isles’ home opener. Greiss was again the starter for the Islanders but could do little to prevent Viktor Arvidsson early on. Mathew Barzal squeezed a shot under Juuse Saros. Valtteri Filppula scored a second goal in as many games to cancel out Mattias Ekholm’s shot in the second period, Craig Smith and Arvidsson, again, put the Predators back in front with a 4-2 lead, before Anders Lee scored his first goal wearing the ‘C’ for the Islanders on the power play, with the Isles outshooting Nashville 29-23 in a 4-3 loss to go 1-1-0.

So the matinee… a time slot in which the Isles never seem to find their groove and games in front of a disinterested crowd generally seem to slip by without much to get excited about – except for this one. No doubt the Sharks are still coming to terms with a newfound burden of expectation this season and it is of course very, very early days for them, but boy, were the Islanders good on Monday. Robin Lehner was confirmed as the starting goal tender with the Islanders producing a steady display in the first period – they would improve as the game wore on with Anders Lee scoring a power play effort before the Isles came out with a dominant third period performance. Scott Mayfield jumped up on play to score a rebounded effort before Matt Martin was wide open out in front to score a third on Martin Jones. It really should be noted just how well the Islanders’ bottom-six are performing, much maligned before the season start – and it still is early days – they are not only contributing to giving the team some energy and defensive stability, they are also stepping on a penalty kill, that looks greatly improved from last season and it’s already evident that under Barry Trotz, the Islanders have much more of a defensive backbone. Ciskas claimed an empty-netter to wrap up a 4-0 win for New York but without a shadow of doubt, the biggest cheer in the arena was for Robin Lehner – who made a 35 game shut-out, completing not only a significant achievement for his Islanders career, but one for his battle against his documented personal issues.

Next up: The Isles are enjoying a little bit of break in terms of games but there’s no doubt that Trotz will be working them hard in practice. They don’t play now until Sunday, when they travel to Nashville for the second in their four-game series against the Preds. That games marks the start of a testing four game road-trip, although the Islanders are expected to return to New York before heading back out west to take in three games in California: back to back games against the Ducks and Kings, starting on Thursday, then another game against San Jose next Sunday.

That early season road trip should be a good opportunity for the team to pull together some more under the new management, and as Trotz has already stated, it’ll be a real good test for the team.

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