COLUMBUS, Ohio — The start was bad. Then it got worse.
The Islanders opened the 2017-18 season by giving up a goal 1:07 in and never recovered, getting a 5-0 thrashing from the Blue Jackets on Friday night.
“I think it’s a good wakeup call,” Andrew Ladd said after the Isles’ worst season-opening loss since 2003. “Is there any panic in here? Not at all. We were maybe a little too cute offensively early and then we fell behind and started to get away from what we do.”
The Islanders gained some confidence from a strong preseason and Doug Weight felt it would carry over to a fast start to the season, something the Isles needed after a 6-10-4 start to 2016-17 that essentially doomed their playoff hopes.
But 67 seconds in, they were in a hole once again. Thomas Greiss and Calvin de Haan got crossed up on a routine goaltender-defenseman exchange below the goal line and the fast, aggressive Blue Jackets pounced. Oliver Bjorkstrand fed Massapequa’s Sonny Milano for the opening goal, Milano’s first in the NHL.
The Isles actually had the better of the zone time in the game’s first few minutes but didn’t get Sergei Bobrovsky moving or screened well enough. And de Haan made an ill-advised, cross-ice pass that Cam Atkinson picked off to start a play that ended with Atkinson scoring off his skate at 11:07.
“Just bonehead plays and that’s not like Calvin,” Weight said. “The first he’s got to hustle back and give Greisser a target. And the second, they’re in a 1-1-3 [structure], we know what they’re doing and he just doesn’t move his feet.”
Once Ryan Murray beat Greiss up high on a delayed Isles penalty at 6:57 of the second, the game was over. The Islanders looked stunned. “Deer in the headlights,” as Weight put it. Zach Werenski scored at 10:25 on the power play and Pierre-Luc Dubois scored his first NHL goal at 11:50, sending Greiss to the bench for Jaroslav Halak after 31:50, five goals and 26 shots against.
“We just weren’t very tough to play against and I’m not sure why,” John Tavares said after a very quiet night. “I’m definitely happy we get right back at it tomorrow night.”
The Islanders flew home Friday to open their home season against the Sabres on Saturday. The desire to throw this one out could be strong, but Weight didn’t seem to be bothered that the loss was so decisive.
“Sometimes it’s good to get smacked in the face every once in a while,” he said. “Our ‘D’ were so active in the preseason, cutting down the walls, making plays in the offensive zone — I don’t remember us doing that once tonight. And they were moving all over the place.”
John Tortorella’s team had an impressive 2016-17 and looked very much the same on Friday, using their speed to catch the Islanders flat-footed in all three zones. The Blue Jackets blocked shots and broke up passes early in the first, when it was still a game, and the Islanders didn’t follow suit. Bobrovsky made 29 saves for the shutout.
“I think we can learn a lesson from how they played,” Ladd said. “They make plays when they’re available and when they aren’t they still try to get pucks to the net and grind away. But by no means are we down in here. There’s a lot of belief about what we can do.”