PHILADELPHIA — The preseason games don’t count in the standings, of course. But don’t tell coach Doug Weight that his Islanders’ 6-0-2 record, capped by Sunday’s 5-2 win here over the Flyers, doesn’t mean anything.
“I think they do count — we’ve got good vibes, confidence, the experience to be gained from winning a bunch of close games,” Weight said. “It bodes well for our group. We had a lot of our youth in those early games and we didn’t just win, we outplayed teams.”
The youngsters were front and center again on Sunday. Anthony Beauvillier scored twice, Mathew Barzal had an assist and Josh Ho-Sang had two “assists” — one on the scoresheet and one a surprising attack on Flyers defenseman Brandon Manning, who had crunched Barzal into the end boards in the second period.
“Nobody messes with my boy,” Ho-Sang said with a laugh. Manning was getting a boarding minor when Ho-Sang cross-checked the big defenseman, then connected with a gloved right hand to the jaw that incensed Manning.
“You’ve just got to let guys know that’s not OK,” Ho-Sang said. “We have a pretty good group for that and we try to stick together.”
Sunday’s lineup was missing six Isles regulars, including John Tavares and three big-minute defensemen in Nick Leddy, Johnny Boychuk and Calvin de Haan. But the three young forwards ignited the offense and four young defensemen played capably in heavy minutes.
Weight likely will have to choose one from Ryan Pulock, Scott Mayfield and Adam Pelech to play on Friday in Columbus in the Isles’ regular-season opener. Devon Toews came back from Bridgeport to play Sunday and was very strong, but he does not need waivers to be sent back down and will almost surely start the season in the AHL.
Among the other three, Weight praised Pulock for playing his best game of the preseason on Sunday and the other two for being their physical, steady selves. “I thought [Mayfield] was maybe our best player [Friday] in Buffalo,” Weight said. “Pelly’s such a smart player and Pulie was up in the play, he was aggressive tonight . . . It’s a cliché but it’s true, this is a good problem for our organization.”
The Isles weren’t facing anyone’s full NHL roster during this near-perfect preseason — Sunday’s win was the fourth meeting with the Flyers, who did start Brian Elliott in goal, presumably their opening-night goaltender — but it’s fair to say some of the veterans feel the same way Weight does about having some success before the season begins.
“It starts with our coaches,” Casey Cizikas said. “They’ve drilled it into our heads from day one that anything mediocre isn’t acceptable. Every shift, every game, every practice, you have to bring your hard hat and get to work. Now we need a good few days of practice so we’re ready for Friday when the bell rings.”