Islanders’ first home opener is against Predators
NEW YORK — The season opener Thursday night marked the official start of a new era for the New York Islanders. But Saturday night will truly reinforce the uncertainty upon which the Islanders have embarked.
The overhauled Islanders will begin their vagabond home existence Saturday night, when New York hosts the Nashville Predators at Barclays Center.
Both teams earned wins in their openers Thursday night, when the visiting Islanders edged the Carolina Hurricanes 2-1 in overtime, while the Predators beat the host New York Rangers 3-2.
Saturday’s game is the first of two home openers this season for the Islanders, who are scheduled to play 21 games at Barclays Center and 20 contests at a renovated Nassau Coliseum, where the franchise played from its inception in 1972 until 2015. The first game at the Coliseum is scheduled for Dec. 1, when the Columbus Blue Jackets visit.
The split schedule — which originally called for the Islanders to play 29 games at Barclays and 12 at Nassau Coliseum — was announced Jan. 29, a little more than a month after the Islanders announced their intentions to leave Barclays by winning a bid to build a new arena at Belmont Park on the border of Nassau and Queens counties.
The move thrilled Islanders fans, who loved the confines of the Coliseum and never warmed to the sight-lines of Barclays nor the commute into Brooklyn.
“I’m absolutely thrilled that we’re going back to the Coliseum,” new Islanders head coach Barry Trotz told a television station in September. “That’s where it should be. I think that’s where the fans want it.”
But the commitment to Belmont turned the Islanders into lame ducks at two arenas, both of which are operated by the same company (Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment), for an indeterminate period of time.
An environmental study of the Belmont area is scheduled to be completed by the spring, after which Islanders ownership hopes to break ground with the goal of opening the arena by the start of the 2021-22 season. But the Islanders have been trying to build a new arena for decades, so when the team will actually begin play at Belmont is anyone’s guess.
It is also anyone’s guess as to which player will be leading that team into Belmont after star center John Tavares left for the Toronto Maple Leafs as a free agent in July. Tavares exited despite the recent arrivals of Hall of Famer Lou Lamoriello, who was named the Islanders’ president of hockey operations May 22, and Trotz, who was named head coach on June 21.
With Lamoriello and Trotz in charge, the Islanders are sure to be more defensively sound than last season, when they allowed an NHL-high 296 goals. Even after a stout effort on Thursday, Trotz made it clear he believes New York has a long way to go.
“As a coach, you always want perfection,” Trotz told reporters. “We didn’t have perfection tonight.”
Neither did the Predators, the Stanley Cup contenders who were hanging on to a 2-1 lead over the rebuilding Rangers before Colton Sissons scored an empty-netter with 1:24 remaining.
“I thought we did some good things,” Predators head coach Peter Laviolette said. “There are things that we could be better at.”
Pekka Rinne, who made 34 saves in goal for the Predators on Thursday, is likely to draw the start on Saturday. The Islanders are expected to split goaltending duties this season between Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner, though Greiss’ 45-save effort Thursday night could earn him a second straight start.