Tonight is a big night at Barclays Center, since for the first time the New York Islanders will play in Brooklyn, making it its new home. The Islanders’ first regular-season match will come against a team they definitely envy. The Chicago Blackhawks are coming off their third Stanley Cup title in six years and look like a team to be reckoned with even after roster changes to fit under the salary cap.
It’s a first game in a back to back where New York will get a chance to take a closer look at the reigning champs and be reminded of that success, tomorrow when they travel to the United Center for the second part of the double header. Chicago two nights ago, unveiled their newest banner Stanley Cup before falling 3-2 to the Islander’s neighbours, the New York Rangers, in their opener. This means Chicago should be looking to redeem themselves and not get punched in the face twice by a New York outfit.
To celebrate and welcome the Isles to their new home, tonight the Empire State Building was lit in blue and orange as the city welcomed the New York Islanders to Brooklyn proper. This has fulfilled the dream of making the Barclays Center a two-team arena and after 70 years, the Isles make the the borough a two-team town.
Tonight’s game will be important in the standings and for the Isles’ own ambition to win a cup. Media will surely focus more the story of the move from the aging Nassau Coliseum, where the team played hockey for a glorious 43 years.
There, the banners that hung celebrating that time, especially the early 1980s dynasty now hang in the state-of-the-art new arena 23 miles west of Nassau. Those banners will remind the team that their focus need to remain on adding another Stanley Cup title as they open a new season tonight.
And they are on the right path. New York last season had 47 victories which were the most they’ve had since winning the last of four straight Cups in 1983-84. Its 25 home wins were tied for the third most in the Eastern Conference, but unfortunately they lost home-ice advantage in the playoffs due to a late season slump and ended up losing a critical Game 7 to the Washington Capitals in the first round of the 2014-15 playoffs.
“You could really feel the disappointment throughout our group over the summer,” said captain John Tavares to media today, who had a career-high 86 points that just fell one poiny short of the Art Ross winner, Dallas’ 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.” He added.
Mobility for the players has gotten a bit more difficult as many current players currently live on Long Island and will have to commute via train. There are so many strict and sometimes superstitious routines that hockey players have had when it came to playing at the Nassau Coliseum, that the change will take some getting used to, but a welcomed change at that.
The core group for the Isles still stays the same. Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Brock Nelson, Ryan Strome, Josh Bailey, Anders Lee and former Blackhawk Nick Leddy will all make the hike, missing only Michael Grabner and Lubomir Visnovsky from last year’s team.
Another Islander will be missed tonight though, goaltender Jaroslav Halak will not play in the season opener because of an upper-body injury. Halak skated before the rest of the Islanders took the ice at Barclays Center for the morning skate today but he didn’t feel right. Coach Jack Capauno said will be Halak day-to-day and has no timeframe for his return. So instead, Thomas Greiss will start against the Blackhawks tonight. He will be backed up by Jean-Francois Berube, who was claimed off waivers from the Los Angeles Kings recently. Halak was 38-17-4 with a 2.43 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage last season, one which was also his first with New York.
“Jaro’s not 100 percent right now,” said Capuano to local media. “For us, it was an easy decision [to start Greiss]. Berube’s just been with us for a few short days here. Jaro’s progressing well. He’s day-to-day and we’ll see how he is as we move forward.”
Even with a back up goaltender the Islanders should be pumped up and ready for a fight. So no matter where the game takes place, it should be an exciting one to watch and bet on.