Bo Horvat's debut a success as Islanders top Flyers
PHILADELPHIA — He confessed to some nerves and overfueling his first shifts with adrenaline, which was only natural, given that Bo Horvat spent his first eight-plus NHL seasons with the Vancouver Canucks. But there were plenty of indications in his successful Islanders debut that should ease any anxiety about how the All-Star center will blend with his new team.
“I thought he fit in nicely,” coach Lane Lambert said. “He’s a very responsible two-way, 200-foot player. You can see it.”
Even without recording a point, Horvat was noticeable at both ends of the ice Monday night as the Islanders won their third straight game, beating the Flyers, 2-1, at Wells Fargo Center.
They acquired the former Canucks captain for Anthony Beauvillier, Aatu Raty and a top-12 protected first-round pick during the eight-day All-Star break/bye week and signed him to an eight-year, $68 million extension Sunday.
“I was really nervous tonight,” said Horvat, who took a team-high four shots in 19:08 as he centered the top line, with Mathew Barzal on his right wing and Josh Bailey on the left.
“The guys made me feel really comfortable. It feels even better to get that win and get my legs under me.”
The Islanders (26-22-5) will face the Kraken on Tuesday night in Horvat’s home debut at UBS Arena. They matched Pittsburgh’s 57 points, but the Penguins, who hold the final wild-card spot, have played four fewer games.
Despite the recent winning streak, the Islanders have been held to two or fewer goals in eight straight games. They have allowed two goals in the last three games, though, and they did score their first power-play goal in 11 games.
“I thought our team was very focused. Everybody felt rested,” said goalie Semyon Varlamov, who made 25 saves as he started consecutive games for the first time this season after a 2-1 overtime win over visiting Vegas on Jan. 28. “I could feel the excitement before the game, too. We had a trade. Bo came in and everybody was excited about it.”
Horvat’s debut marked a potential long-term switch in roles for Barzal, provided that the two elite playmakers keep showing the potential for real chemistry. Barzal essentially has centered the top line since John Tavares left for Toronto in 2018.
Horvat had 31 goals and 23 assists in 49 games for the Canucks and nearly recorded his first goal for the Islanders, deflecting defenseman Noah Dobson’s shot off the crossbar at 3:22 of the third period.
Barzal’s behind-the-back feed found Horvat open in the slot at 13:41 of the first period, but Carter Hart (28 saves) got a shoulder on his hard wrist shot.
“I thought we could have had three or four,” said Barzal, who had two shots in 20:27 and made it 2-0 at 8:18 of the second period when he tipped in Dobson’s feed for a two-game goal streak.
“Some good possession time. Some good plays. Every time Bo had the puck, I had confidence he was going to make a good play, and he did. He won a lot of battles down low and got me the puck.”
Horvat also was good in the defensive zone.
“He just seemed to be in the right spot,” Barzal said. “He picked off a few pucks and was able to hit me in transition. You can just tell he’s a smart player.”
Kyle Palmieri’s power-play goal from the left circle made it 1-0 at 17:07 of the first period. The Islanders entered the game 0-for-25 on the power play in their previous 10 games and 3-for-64 in their previous 24.
Nicolas Deslauriers cut the deficit to 2-1 at 10:39 of the second period for the Flyers (21-22-9).