The Timmy Trumpet pregame intro music was new to UBS Arena, and fair game without a trademark from Mets’ closer Edwin Diaz. Otherwise, new coach Lane Lambert’s Islanders looked very much like past seasons in the team’s 2022-23 debut.
The defensive structure and goaltending were solid against a team that led the NHL with both 122 points and 340 goals last season. But despite Lambert’s push to have a more aggressive attack in the offensive zone, the Islanders dropped their season-opener, 3-1, to the Panthers on Thursday night to start a four-game homestand.
“I wasn’t pleased with the way we transitioned the puck,” Lambert said. “I thought we had made some strides in that and we’ll have to continue working on it. I thought we moved the puck too slow at times. We went [defenseman to defenseman] instead of going quick up and that allowed them to get into their structure. It’s a two- or three-second hockey game out there and we just had to move a little bit quicker at times.”
The Islanders, who went 5-for-5 on the penalty kill, matched their first-period shots total with just 16 over the last two periods. Ilya Sorokin finished with 26 saves.
“Our whole key is to play fast,” Casey Cizikas said. “Get the puck, move it up, get in on the forecheck and roll four lines and continue to do that. Eventually you’re going to get chances out of that.”
Remarkably, the Islanders have not won an opener on home ice since January, 1995, when they beat the Panthers to start that lockout-shortened season. It was the first time the Islanders have started a season at home since 2019 and, overall, they fell to 13-26-11 in season openers.
The Islanders tied the game at 1 on Noah Dobson’s power-play wrister over the glove of Sergei Bobrovsky (31 saves) at 3:13 of the third period.
But the Panthers regained the lead just 30 seconds later as Patric Hornqvist banked in a wraparound shot off Sorokin’s right skate.
“It was a kick in the stomach but, certainly, we weren’t deflated,” Lambert said. “We continued to battle and I thought we had a couple of good opportunities to tie the game.”
But Matthew Tkachuk’s empty-netter clinched it at 18:45 of the third period.
“We saw when we play with that pace, how successful we can be and the stuff we can generate offensively,” said Kyle Palmieri, who hit the post with a power-play chance at 10:40 of the third period as the Islanders were 1-for-3 on the man advantage.
“We’ve just got to find a way to do that a little more consistently and keep the pressure on.”
The game marked the Islanders’ debuts of defenseman Alexander Romanov, acquired from the Canadiens for the 13th overall pick in this year’s draft, and fourth-line right wing Nikita Soshnikov, signed as a free agent after three seasons in the Russian KHL.
The 22-year-old Romanov, known for his aggressive style, blocked nine shots and dished out four hits.
The Panthers took a 1-0 lead on Eetu Luostarinen’s redirection of defenseman Radko Gudas’ shot at 12:45 of the second period. The Islanders, their rhythm broken by having to kill off three Panthers’ power plays in the second period, were held to five shots in the middle 20 minutes though Mathew Barzal did hit the crossbar at 16:23.
“We spent too much time in the box, for sure,” captain Anders Lee said. “Our penalty kill did a phenomenal job tonight. It’s a great power play over there and they shut them down. They gave us a chance. Just too much time killing.”