Nassau Coliseum’s crumbling facade provided a reminder to the faithful fans on Long Island that it probably was time for the New York Islanders to find new digs as they stepped into the outdated facility.
The banners that celebrate the early 1980s dynasty now hang in the state-of-the-art Barclays Center 23 miles west in Brooklyn. But no matter where the Islanders now call home, their focus remains on adding another Stanley Cup title as they open a new season Friday night in the first of a home-and-home set with the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks.
New York’s 47 victories last season were its most since winning the last of four straight Cups in 1983-84. Its 25 home wins tied for the third most in the Eastern Conference, but they lost home-ice advantage in the playoffs due to a late slump and lost Game 7 to Washington in the first round.
”You could really feel the disappointment throughout our group over the summer,” said captain John Tavares, whose career-high 86 points fell one short of Art Ross winner Jamie Benn. ”It definitely adds to pushing ourselves to get back here. We realize how hard it is just to get where we got last year.”
The difficulty of simply getting to work also increased, as many players live on Long Island and have been commuting via train. The strict and sometimes superstitious routines hockey players value have changed with the Islanders leaving Nassau Coliseum after 43 years.
Still, much remains the same. Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Brock Nelson, Ryan Strome, Josh Bailey, Anders Lee and former Blackhawk Nick Leddy help make up a core group that lost only Michael Grabner and Lubomir Visnovsky.
Goaltender Jaroslav Halak is back after one of the best seasons of his career, though he won’t play in the opener because of an undisclosed upper body injury. Thomas Greiss, who hasn’t faced the Blackhawks since 2009, will get the start.
”Everybody knows the system,” said Okposo, who finished second on the club with 51 points despite missing 22 games with an eye injury. ”That part is second nature to us. It’s nice that we don’t have to learn a new system, we don’t have to learn anything.
"As far as the amenities go, it’s nice to have, but we still have to go play the game.”
The Islanders’ first regular-season contest at Barclays comes against a club they most certainly envy, as the Blackhawks are coming off their third Stanley Cup title in six years.
New York will get a reminder of that success Saturday when they travel to the United Center. Chicago unveiled their newest banner Wednesday before falling 3-2 to the New York Rangers in its opener.
Patrick Kane, who is playing despite being under investigation for an alleged sexual assault incident during the offseason, tapped in the potential tying goal in the final minute, but it was disallowed after the referee declared his intent to blow the whistle after losing sight of the puck.
Kane assisted on rookie Artemi Panarin’s goal in the first period, and Teuvo Teravainen also scored for the new-look Blackhawks, who parted ways with key contributors Patrick Sharp and Brandon Saad – among others – to stay under the salary cap.
Trevor Daley, who came over in the trade that sent Sharp to Dallas, had a few defensive lapses in his Chicago debut.
”We got better as the game went on and did good things,” coach Joel Quenneville said. ”But we gave up a couple goals late in the first that were definitely preventable.”
Leddy and Tavares assisted on Okposo’s goal midway through the third as New York won 3-2 on Dec. 13. Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa each scored twice in Chicago’s 4-1 home win March 17.