...and I am not just saying that because John Tavares scored.
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The Isles were playing host to the defending Stanley Cup champions, a roster that includes Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Marc-Andre Fluery, Chris Letang, and so on. After the first period we were tied at one and John Tavares had his first NHL point. And let me tell you, the second that kid touched the puck that place went nuts and made me wish I had a way to get to the game.
After the second the Isles had a 2-1 lead thanks to none other than the first overall selection of last year's draft. He lifted the puck over Fleury's pads with a nifty backhand just before leaping into the unexpecting arms of Matt Moulson, celebrating his first NHL goal in his first NHL game. Just minutes later he had a breakaway but was denied by the catching glove of Fleury. Howie Rose was right too, if Tavs scored on that play the refurbishing of the Coliseum would've probably started right there whether Kate Murray liked it or not.
The Isles went on to lose in the shootout 4-3. They let down in the third period and that is something that Scott Gordon will have to address. It has been an issue with this team in the past and there really aren't any excuses for why that happened. The Pens played the night before and had to be tired in the final frame of six in a 48 hour time span. Ironically, it was the Islanders who looked like they were on the back-end of a home and home season starter.
Starting from the net and working my way out, Dwayne Roloson played a very solid game in goal. He BARELY gave up any rebounds. After watching Joey MacDonald and Yann Danis for 82 games, you can clearly see what a difference that makes. Streit was solid offensively and Brendan Witt played a very physical game. I loved the way he said hello to his former teammate Fedotenko. It resulted in three players coming after him and the Isles gaining a five-on-three powerplay. Although he may not be as fast or young, Witt still finds ways to be effective. Sutton blocked a handful of shots, a few key ones specifically in the third period. But the big guy has to throw some hits. Gervais, Meyer, and Martinek played respectable games as well.
I want to give kudos to Tim Jackman for fighting a much bigger Mike Rupp in the first period to try to spark some momentum. Role players such as Park and Sim played hard. I especially liked how Bailey was not afraid to get hammered into the boards to make a play on more than one occasion. In addition, I liked the way Moulson played on a line with Okposo and Tavares. Matt played smart and you can see why they want to give him a chance after his pre-season outing this year.
But with all that being said, Kyle Okposo was the best player on the ice. The move he made in overtime that almost won the game was a key sign that he is as confident as ever out there. He made some great passes, created opportunities, and just looked like a true leader out there. This year needs to be a significant step forward in regards to his development; it was just one game, but I liked what I saw.
Tavares at times looked a little shaky on the ice but once he got that assist he seemed to be a little more sure of himself. Now I would have said this if he didn't score, and I'm going to say it even though he did - NO ONE can determine what kind of a year Tavares will have because of just one game. He may not register a point for the next ten games. He may go on a tear and lead the league for a while. Then he might drop. It's too early to tell, but he showed that he can be a difference maker and someone to watch. We have 81 games to go, and we all need to expect lots of ups and downs from this kid.
Being that I just listed a lot of what I liked about the home opener, I have to pay attention to what I didn't like. The Islanders had plenty of rebounds laying in front of Fleury that they did not capitalize on. Getting to those second and third chances could have completely changed the result of the hockey game. In addition, they have to keep themselves motivated for a full 60 minutes. This was the first home game to a sell out crowd that made the coliseum feel like it was Game 6 of the Isles/Toronto series - and let me tell you I have never heard any game as loud as that one. With all of these ingredients the Isles came out full of heart and energy, but it won't be the same every night.
Next game they will be in Ottawa, and they won't have that same level of intensity in the air. They have to find a way to sustain that kind of play from start to finish, especially if the hype is not there.
Thursday we'll see what they can do on the road.
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