After more than a month of the season and 13 consecutive games on the road to open the 2021-22 season the New York Islanders were finally able to play in front of their fans in their long-awaited new building (UBS Arena) on Long Island on Saturday night.
The effort was there, and it was valiant.
They just did not have the players or the luck to give their fans a reason to celebrate the first game in their new home as an undermanned Islanders team dropped a 5-2 decision to the Calgary Flames. The loss extended the Islanders’ current losing streak to five games and leaves them in the basement of the Metropolitan Division.
It’s hard to fault the Islanders for this one because they were not only playing a pretty good Flames team, but they were also without several key players due to COVID-19 protocols and injuries. New York played Saturday’s game without the services of Josh Bailey, Anthony Beauvillier, Anders Lee, Adam Pelech, and Ryan Pulock. That is three of the Islanders’ top forwards and their top two defensemen. Not only their top two defensemen, but one of the NHL’s best top defense pairings in Pelech and Pulock.
That is a lot to overcome on any night, especially after a daunting 13-game road trip to open the season.
Despite the absences the Islanders still kept the game close, and even had the upper hand when it came to shots on goal, shot attempts, and scoring chances. They played well given the undermanned lineup they were using, only to run into a great goaltending effort from Jacob Markstrom.
It was a one-goal game in the final minute until the Flames added a pair of empty-net goals to extend the deficit.
It is still probably too soon to hit the panic button here, but at some point the Islanders are going to have to start stacking some points back in their favor and figure out a way to stay afloat with so many players out of the lineup. When healthy, this is an excellent team with outstanding goaltending and a proven track record of playoff success. They also still have a lot of season and their entire home schedule in front of them. But the lineup is thin right now, an already thin offense has become non-existent, and their next four games feature the Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and the New York Rangers again. If they do not find a way to get some points out of that stretch they might start facing a deficit that will be too much to overcome this season.
For record keeping purposes, Calgary’s Brad Richardson scored the first goal in the arena, while Brock Nelson (two) scored the first Islanders goal.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.