OTTAWA, Ontario – The Islanders returned their roster almost intact from last season, which the team and its fans hoped would translate into a quick start in 2019-20.
So far, so good. Their 4-2 victory over the Senators on Friday night at Canadian Tire Centre improved their record to 7-3 and gave them a six-game winning streak – the longest in the NHL this season.
The eventful, frenetic game featured Nick Leddy becoming the first defenseman in Islanders history to score on a penalty shot, and nearly becoming their first defenseman with a hat trick since Denis Potvin.
He initially was awarded a third goal, but it was changed to Matt Martin on a deflection with Leddy picking up the assist.
Afterward, Martin admitted he felt a tad guilty about inadvertently denying Leddy, saying, “It would have been nice for him get a hat trick, for sure.”
But Leddy said that while he “obviously” would have liked to score thrice, “a lot of credit goes to Marty taking the goalie’s eyes away, and he deserves it.”
The evening was marred by a potentially serious left leg injury to Tom Kuhnhackl, who rammed into the end boards in the first period and did not return. Fans in Ottawa audibly gasped upon seeing a replay of the injury on the video board.
Coach Barry Trotz did not offer an update on Kuhnhackl, saying he would be evaluated along with Martin. who also suffered a left leg injury.
Martin was helped off the ice in the second, having hurt his left leg when he ran into an open door on the Senators bench.
He returned in the third, but he said, “It kind of went numb there originally and once it settled down doctors took a look at it and positive news so far.”
“So far” are the key words. Martin was limping when he left the dressing room.
With the Islanders having dressed 11 forwards and seven defensemen, losing Kuhnhackl and Martin left them with nine, then Cal Clutterbuck missed more than half the second period after being penalized 12 minutes for a fight.
Trotz thought the Senators had goaded Clutterbuck, knowing the Islanders’ situation, and was displeased with how his team handled itself after gaining a 4-1 lead, calling it “reckless hockey” and “unintelligent.”
Forwards Brock Nelson, Mathew Barzal, Josh Bailey and Anders Lee all played more than 20 minutes. Defenseman Noah Dobson filled in as a forward on the power play.
“It shows a lot [of guts] in a back-to-back, but we can play smarter,” Trotz said.
The Senators (2-7-1) scored first, but Leddy tied it at 13:00 of the first with an end-to-end rush and backhanded the puck between the pads of Ottawa goaltender Anders Nilsson.
“He’s dynamic in that way, and one of the best skaters this game has to offer,” Martin said.
The Islanders were on a rare power play – they have had the fewest such chances in the league by far – when Leddy was brought down by Nikita Zaitsev on a breakaway and was awarded a penalty shot. He skated in on Nilsson and beat him to the stick side at 17:19 to give the Islanders the lead.
Leddy, who totaled four goals in 82 games last season, then appeared score on a blast from the top of the left circle at 4:58 of the second. But Martin got the nod.
Derick Brassard made it 4-1 at 6:08, chasing Nilsson, and the Islanders survived a 5-on-3 disadvantage in the second period.
Next up are the Flyers at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum on Sunday. The regular season is not even one-eighth over, but this was the start the Islanders hoped for when they looked around the room in training camp and saw so many familiar faces.