BY LESLIE MONTEIRO
(Photo credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The Islanders desperately want to erase the bitter taste of last season that denied them a playoff appearance.
They started with 13 straight road games while the UBS Arena was undergoing its finishing touches. Then once they finished the road trip, they were plagued with COVID-19, which affected them for a month. It turned out this was just one of the seasons where nothing would go their way. This mediocre season cost Barry Trotz his job as the Islanders head coach.
They started anew with Lane Lambert coaching behind the bench on Thursday night at UBS Arena.
They played with passion, and they paid attention to detail on defense. They received competent goaltending from Ilya Sorokin. They even scored a power-play goal. But in the end, they took a 2-1 loss to the Florida Panthers.
It’s not a crime to lose to a Stanley Cup contender that is miles better than the Islanders. The Panthers have more firepower than the home team.
While the Islanders should be better than last season, this season opener provided a harsh reminder that it is not good enough for them to be a playoff team. In a loaded Eastern Conference and Metropolitan Division, most teams have so much firepower that the Islanders would be hard-pressed to match.
The Islanders struggled to create scoring chances most of the night. It seemed like every time an Islander would have the puck, he would shoot rather than skate around and find the open guy. It seemed like the guys tried to match the Panthers by shooting at will.
This is a losing battle for the Islanders. They don’t have playmakers like the Panthers.
Watching Anthony Beauvillier skate and try to create offense on his own shot was sad to watch. He couldn’t do anything out there. It may seem like he peaked as a player, and that’s troubling for a 25-year-old player, who is supposed to be peaking at the right time.
Newly signed Mat Barzal couldn’t find a playmaker to do his magic out there.
Not one Islander ever had the opportunity to finish his scoring chances.
When the Panthers needed a goal, they got it. After Noah Dobson scored a power-play goal to tie the game at 1 in the third period, it was short-lived 30 seconds later for the Islanders when Patric Hornqvist scored a wraparound shot off Sorokin’s stake, giving the Panthers a 2-1 lead.
The Islanders had a chance to score a shorthand goal to tie it at 2. With 13:57 to go in the third period, Casey Cizikas raced to get to the loose puck after Nikita Soshnikov took the puck of Matthew Tkachuk and sent it to the Panthers ice. Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky got out of the net to beat Cizikas to the puck, but Cizikas got it and poked it up in the air, but it did not have the distance to go in. That was the game right there. It was a blown opportunity.
The Islanders defense and Sorokin kept the team in the game, but they could only do so much. Maybe in the 90s, defense and great goaltending would be difference-makers. It’s just not like that anymore in today’s hockey. With players being faster and stronger, it’s all about forechecking and speed that win games.
The Islanders struggle to adapt to today’s hockey. In Lou Lamoriello’s world, he still believes defense and goaltending can make a difference. It’s not a crazy thought. It’s just that skating and scoring wins games, too. The Panthers knew how to get a timely goal with their talent while the Islanders had to fight and scrap to score. This is not feasible for the Islanders in today’s hockey.
Playing ugly hockey may be good enough to beat bad teams, but it will not be good enough to beat great teams. It’s been proven time after time going back to the Islanders’ 1-0 loss to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference finals a couple of years ago and last season.
It behooved Lamoriello to add playmakers in the offseason. He couldn’t get it done. It could be he did not have the assets to get that stud.
Now, the Islanders are stuck hoping for the best with players such as Oliver Wahlstrom, Kieffer Bellows and Beauvillier. Hope is not a strategy.
The thinking was Trotz held them back because of his defense-first style, but that is ludicrous since Lamoriello believes in that philosophy going back to his three Stanley Cup championships with the Devils.
Coaching was not why the Islanders failed last year. They just couldn’t keep up with the Carolina Hurricanes, Stanley Cup finalist Tampa Bay Lightning, Rangers and other elite teams that could score at will.
It’s hard to believe Lambert will do anything differently with the same roster.
It’s dangerous to read into one game, but from watching the season opener, it sure looks like nothing has changed from last season.
It could be more of the same.
This writer can be reached on Twitter at: @LeslieMonteiro6
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