The first of eight preseason games is way too soon to draw any real conclusions. But there were reasons to be encouraged after the Islanders’ 3-0 win over the Flyers at NYCB’s Nassau Coliseum on Sunday, both in a reminder of the team’s past identity and a glimpse at how new coach Barry Trotz wants to be successful in the future.
The Islanders went 2-for-3 on the power play and their penalty kill, ranked last a year ago, stymied all four of the Flyers’ chances. Their defensive structure was sound after allowing an NHL-worst 293 goals last season and goalies Robin Lehner and Christopher Gibson combined to make 17 saves. Also, right wing Kieffer Bellows, the 19th overall pick in 2016, had a power-play goal and an assist and rocketed a first-period shot off the post.
But it started with a nod to the past at the Coliseum, which will also host 20 regular-season games. The crowd of 8,041 gave a loud welcome-back to Matt Martin, reunited with Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck on what was one of the NHL’s top fourth lines three seasons ago before Martin signed as a free agent with the Maple Leafs.
“It was cool, Trotz kind of gave us a head’s up on this one and said he wanted us to set the tone,” Martin said.
“They were a little bit of the identity of this team, this building,” Trotz added. “This building is going to be our home.”
But Trotz, who led the Capitals to their first Stanley Cup in June, has been clear the Islanders need to establish a strong defensive identity.
Allowing few odd-man rushes or second-chance opportunities at the net was a strong start.
“We played a way we have to learn but it was a good start in how we want to play and should play,” said Lehner, who stopped eight shots in his 29:29 and also received a raucous pregame ovation after his revelation this week that he has battled addiction and mental health issues.
Trotz also kept together last season’s trio of Calder Trophy-winning center Mathew Barzal in between Anthony Beauvillier and Jordan Eberle.
Eberle and Barzal set up Bellows’ goal from the slot at 6:55 of the first period and Clutterbuck swept in Cizikas’ rebound at the right post for a power-play goal to make it 2-0 late in the period. Bellows also got an assist on defenseman Sebastian Aho’s slap shot from the point to make it 3-0 at 16:29 of the second period.
“I know he can shoot the puck, that’s what he does,” Trotz said of Bellows. “At the end, he chewed on a point shot to make sure he defended well. To me, that means more than the goal and the assist.”
Notes & quotes: Josh Ho-Sang skated in the morning scrimmage after being excused Saturday with what Trotz called a “personal day.” “It was a personal day, that’s it,” Ho-Sang said. “Everything’s good . . . ” Trotz said LW Andrew Ladd left Sunday’s morning scrimmage for precautionary reasons but expected him to practice Monday . . . The teams meet again Monday in Philadelphia but Trotz said none of Sunday’s players will be active for that game.