ELMONT, N.Y. — It was another another loss for the New York Islanders, but could it finally be a turning point to end their current five-game skid?
The Islanders suffered their latest loss at the hands of the Calgary Flames in the long-awaited opener at UBS Arena, but played perhaps their most competitive game in quite some time. New York answered twice — both off of goals from Brock Nelson — to pull within one after watching Calgary take a multi-goal lead in the first and second period.
Calgary eventually sealed the win with a pair of empty net goals on in the final few minutes. Still, Saturday marked the first time that the Islanders had shown any of the fight it had last season.
“You need people to step it up and I thought the veterans that were in the lineup they stepped their game up,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said. “Especially in the center ice area. Three of our center ice men were outstanding tonight. Guys that came in were outstanding. … What I liked about our team is we played a little bit more to the Islanders identity that I’m used to, what the fans are used to and what we expect organizationally.
“We play with emotion, we play with resiliency, we established a pretty good forecheck and we were there at the end. We just couldn’t get it tied up.”
The opening of the new building and playing in front of the fan base seemed to help, along with the infusion of youth they had with Grant Hutton and Robin Salo making their NHL debuts due to the recent outbreak of COVID on the team. Oliver Wahlstrom and Kieffer Bellows also saw increased responsibility, with both players finding themselves in the Islanders top-six.
The effort on Saturday was far from perfect, but it was as Trotz indicated much closer to how the New York Islanders have been known to play in the past. The Isles outshot Calgary 36-31 in the loss, which included putting up 14 shots in the third period while forcing starter Jacob Markstrom to make save after save.
New York had a number of scoring chances in the third period that looked to come within inches of tying the game. The Islanders also scored a rare power play goal, which had only happened four previous times over their first 13 games.
The Islanders held the edge in scoring chances 5-on-5 with 25, according to Natural Stat Trick. Of those, 12 were considered high danger.
“I thought we did a pretty good job of trying to keep it simple,” said Brock Nelson, who scored both Islanders goals on Saturday. “Just playing fast, north-south, getting it on the attack, get some turnovers. I thought we did that and gave ourselves a chance to win. It’s what you hope for, but you hope to get a better result in.”
The New York Islanders have had their fair of issues heading into Saturday’s game. They had entered already dropping their last four contests, their offense had struggled mightily and they had six players in COVID protocol.
“It’s been a tough couple of days as far as everything going on,” Scott Mayfield said. “A lot of adversity, especially when we’re not winning games it’s tough to deal with. Maybe a couple nerves, a couple just different game to start, but I think we battled through it and in the end I think we had some chances.
“We just couldn’t find a way to tie it up there.”