A seven-game loss to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning in the NHL semifinals in June taught the New York Islanders a hard-earned lesson about how every shift matters.
The Islanders are still absorbing those lessons four games into a season that carries with it the franchise’s highest expectations in a generation.
The Islanders will look to snap out of an inconsistent early season stretch Saturday night, when they are scheduled to visit the Arizona Coyotes in the continuation of a season-opening 13-game road trip.
Both teams were off Friday after losing Thursday, when the Islanders fell to the Columbus Blue Jackets, 3-2, in overtime and the host Coyotes remained winless with a 5-1 loss to the Edmonton Oilers.
The Islanders fell to 1-2-1 thanks largely to a 33-second span late in the second period in which the Blue Jackets scored both their regulation goals. Boone Jenner scored on the power play — the fourth of the game for Columbus — with exactly two minutes left before Cole Sillinger, the youngest player in the NHL at 18 years old, collected his first career goal.
The flurry capped a sequence in which New York’s Zdeno Chara and Mathew Barzal converged behind the net upon Vladislav Gavrikov, who dished a no-look pass to Sillinger as he descended upon goalie Ilya Sorokin.
“They scored on (the power play) and got momentum the next shift,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said. “The shift after a goal is huge. We duplicated in the corner, they fed it out front. We were late to the party and a really good period that you could wrap your arms around, we come out (of it down) 2-1.”
The Islanders, who lost Game 7 to the Lightning 1-0 when Yanni Gourde scored a short-handed goal in the second period, are 1-2-1 — the fourth time in the last six seasons they’ve opened with three losses in the first four games.
“Your best players have to be your best players every night and role guys have to play their roles,” Trotz said. “That’s not all there right now. We’re patching it together.”
Patching it together is a familiar concept for the Coyotes, whose 0-3-1 start marks the first time they’ve been winless through four games since 2017-18, when they began 0-9-1. Arizona embarked upon a rebuilding project in July by making a series of trades which cost the franchise several veterans — including captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson — but brought back six 2021 or 2022 draft picks.
One of those trades was with the cap-strapped Islanders, who sent Andrew Ladd and three draft picks to the Coyotes for “future considerations.” Ladd, who didn’t play last season and was limited to 30 games the previous two campaigns, has a goal and an assist in his first four games with Arizona. The goal, the 250th of Ladd’s career, was his first since Mar. 10, 2020.
“Things had kind of run its course in Long Island there — both sides knew that,” Ladd said after collecting the milestone goal in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Oct. 16. “To be able to come to a group and have some new eyes on you and just get a fresh start, that was just exciting for me.”
The game Saturday will be the first between the teams since Feb. 17, 2020, when the Coyotes earned a 2-1 win at Gila River Arena.