RALEIGH, N.C. — Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz arrived on Long Island in the offseason with a mandate to improve the Islanders’ defense after it allowed an NHL-worst 293 goals last season. The new president/general manager and new coach both said it could be a fairly simple fix.
The easiest fix, of course, is great goaltending, which the Islanders got from Thomas Greiss in their season-opening 2-1 overtime win over the Hurricanes on Thursday night before a sell-out crowd of 18,680 at PNC Arena.
“The guy stood on his head,” said Mathew Barzal, who set up Josh Bailey’s power-play one-timer 43 seconds into overtime after drawing a tripping call on Micheal Ferlund with 3.5 seconds left in regulation. “We were lucky to get these two points.”
The Islanders, outshot 46-20, spent much of the game playing in their own end against the hard-pressing, youthful Hurricanes. Greiss was denied his ninth career shutout when Jordan Staal used his backside to deflect Dougie Hamilton’s shot at 18:25 of the third period, a play reviewed for goalie interference.
“It was a huge performance for us,” Bailey said. “He had a lot of big saves, timely saves. When your goalie gives you a chance like that, you want to win it for him.”
The Islanders will face the Predators on Saturday night in their home opener at Barclays Center.
“I think two points is a big boost for us, kind of the way we stuck together,” Cal Clutterbuck said. “There were a lot of good plays out there, a lot of blocked shots . There were a lot of things we didn’t do well.”
Trotz did not like the Islanders’ numerous turnovers nor his team’s puck decisions. He said the Islanders often had the potential to create offense off their defensive play but that once the puck got on their sticks, the plays broke down.
“As a coach, you always want perfection,” Trotz said when asked about getting his first victory with the Islanders after winning the Stanley Cup with the Capitals last season. “We didn’t have perfection tonight.”
Trotz did make the right call in giving Greiss the start over Robin Lehner after the former Sabre started five of the eight preseason games.
Greiss, 32, in the second season of a three-year, $10-million deal, is starting his fourth season with the Islanders but struggled along with fellow netminders Jaroslav Halak and Christopher Gibson last season. He went 13-8-2 with a 3.82 goals-against average and an .892 save percentage.
He had to be sharp immediately on Thursday. The Hurricanes had the Islanders playing in their own zone for most of the goal-free first period and outshot them 16-7, not including Andrei Svechnikov and defenseman Justin Faulk hitting posts on the power play. Svechnikov, one of five rookie forwards for the Hurricanes and the second overall pick in June, also hit the post in the second period.
“A lot of pucks were flying everywhere,” Greiss said. “It was nice some hit the post and jumped out.”
The Islanders went up 1-0 at 9:27 of the second period as Valterri Filppula, one of the four new Islanders, took a feed from Brock Nelson and patiently beat Mrazek through his pads from the left circle after the goalie came out to cut down the angle.