The day has finally come! The NY Islanders are set to open their 50th season tonight at home against the Florida Panthers at UBS Arena. The Islanders finished the preseason strong winning four straight games after losing the opening two contests. They'll face the reigning President's Trophy winners in the first game of the season, an immediate test for the mostly unchanged Islanders roster.
The Panthers were the most dangerous team in the goal-scoring department last season, averaging 4.41 goals per game. Florida did some major surgery this offseason, however, after a quick second-round exit after getting swept by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Out of Florida is Jonathan Huberdeau, who led the team in points by a wide margin with 115 points, and Makenzie Weegar who is a top-pairing blue-liner and arguably one of the most underrated defensemen in the NHL, both traded to the Calgary Flames. The Panthers also couldn't retain Claude Giroux who opted to walk in free agency to sign with the Ottawa Senators.
Coming in for the Panthers in exchange for Huberdeau and Weeger and arguably the biggest transaction to happen this summer is Matthew Tkachuk. Tkachuk had a monster season with the Flames in 2021-22, scoring 42 goals and 104 points in his break out season.
The Islanders' biggest change comes behind the bench. Out is Barry Trotz who led the Islanders to the postseason in three out of his four seasons as bench boss. In is Lane Lambert who the Islanders promoted from associate coach to head coach and is a disciple of Trotz having stood by his side for the better part of a decade. Despite Lambert's history with Trotz, he's already proving to be a more aggressive, offensive-minded coach than his mentor.
Zdeno Chara and Andy Greene have both announced their retirement leaving the blue line with its biggest changes. GM Lou Lamoriello traded for Alexander Romanov at the 2022 NHL Draft, a left defenseman to partner with Noah Dobson for the foreseeable future. On the third pair, Robin Salo had a strong training camp, earning the sixth spot on defense and playing next to Scott Mayfield.
As for the forwards, the Islanders are running it back. Lamoriello was able to extend Mathew Barzal to an eight-year, $73.2 million contract. Aside from Barzal, the only new face in the forward group is Nikita Soshnikov who signed a one-year contract at the beginning of training camp.
Despite a mostly unchanged roster, the Islanders are excited to get this season going, riding the belief that the 2021-22 season was a product of circumstance rather than an on-ice issue:
"Everybody is feeling the same way right now, players are excited to play. The biggest thing is that they're competitive guys. Throughout the league guys are competitive and they want to have competition against each other. That's probably the most exciting part, that we get to start."- Lane Lambert
Islanders to watch
- The expectations have risen for Barzal who is now being paid as a true No.1 center. The 25-year-old forward has been on the record stating he knows he has more offense to provide and will look to get a head start tonight after a disappointing 15-goal, 59-point 2021-22 season.
- Romanov will dress for his first regular season game as a member of the Islanders. He's already proven to be a high-flying, physical presence, although he's also been penalized $5,000 for throwing an illegal check on the NY Rangers Vincent Trochek in the preseason.
- Soshnikov is also dressing for his first game as an Islander and his first NHL game since the 2018-19 season. The Nizhny Tagil, Russia native opened the scoring for the Islander in the preseason with a convincing snipe and earned a spot on the Islanders opening night roster.
- Kieffer Bellows signed a one-year extension with the Islanders this summer on a "prove it" basis. He's earned a spot in the opening night lineup on the third line after a strong end to the preseason scoring a goal and displaying a physical presence.