You know that feeling when you are away from home for a long time, whether it be due to traveling or being away at college, and then, when you get home, you lay in your childhood bed and have that meal that home-cooked meal?
Yeah…that homey feel was not what the New York Islanders felt when they returned home from their historic 13-game road trip a season ago to kick off their tenure at UBS Arena.
The New York Islanders went seven games on home ice before finally picking up their first win in front of their fans and ultimately lost eight of their first 10 contests (2-5-3) at Belmont Park.
To be fair, the New York Islanders were playing on a surface that they had never skated on before while also battling a COVID-19 outbreak that the NHL completely mishandled.
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Despite the early struggles at home, the New York Islanders did finish the season with a winning record at UBS Arena, a 20-16-5 record. But that was a significant drop-off from their 21-4-3 2020-21 record at Nassau Coliseum.
The New York Islanders have the luxury of starting their season with four straight home games and six of their first 10 games at UBS Arena. Given how the Islanders began the 2021-22 season at home, this is a critical opportunity to get off to a stronger start this year.
Because as we saw a year ago, a slow start is detrimental.
“Take advantage of what we have in front of us, and we’re going up against a good team in Florida to start the season off,” New York Islanders forward Casey Cizikas shared with NYI Hockey Now. “So it’s gonna be a good test for us right out of the gate.”
“It’s always tough when you start at a new building. But I think as the season went on, we were accustomed to how it felt, how the atmosphere was, and we’re looking forward to getting back out there.”
When I asked Casey Cizikas if UBS Arena felt like home, with the biggest smile, he said, “It’s home, yeah, it’s home.”
The New York Islanders fan base is a loyal one, and with the 50th anniversary season kicking off on home ice, there’s no question the Islanders faithful will be out in full support tonight.
And the players are excited.
“Just a great opportunity to start in front of our fans, get this building rocking again, and you know, put on some good games,” New York Islanders captain Anders Lee said. “I mean, it’s just really nice to be able to open up with them and have that opportunity.”
“It’s going to be a great evening and a good start here.”
For head coach Lane Lambert, the New York Islanders are honed in on their matchup with the Florida Panthers but acknowledged the importance of starting out strong out of the gate.
“It’s obviously important,” Lambert said. “We’re just focused on one game at a time, one period at a time…and as long as we follow the process of what we’re doing, you know, we think the results will come, and we focus on the right things.”
“It’s nice to have four at home and just get comfortable,” the newly extended Mathew Barzal told NYI Hockey Now. “I think every good team has a good home team. So yeah, I feel like we feel more comfortable now. So should be easier for us to play this year.”
As Cizikas mentioned, time is needed to get fully acclimated to the new arena, as players have to learn how the pucks bounce off the boards, the lighting, and the nuances.
“Just the lighting, the specs, everything really,” Barzal said. “We played Calgary our first game, and so we both never played there, you know, so, I’d say by game twenty or so, we started to feel more comfortable, but getting some preseason games and having a full season, it’s better, so it feels like home.”
After that disastrous start at home, the Islanders did turn things around, as Mat Barzal said.
Following those seven straight losses at home (0-5-2), the New York Islanders went 20-10-5 in the remaining 35 home games.
The Islanders put together two six-game point streaks on UBS Arena ice in 2021-22, as they went 5-0-1 from Dec. 11 to Jan. 13. The Islanders went 5-0-1 and from Mar. 10 to Mar. 24.
Tonight at 7:30 PM the New York Islanders start their season against the Florida Panthers at home, followed by three more home matchups against the Anaheim Ducks, the San Jose Sharks, and the New Jersey Devils.
As Lambert said, the focus is on tonight, and a strong performance at home to start the season will go a long way in setting the tone early as the New York Islanders try to turn UBS Arena into the ultimate home-field advantage.