Even after losing both Mark Streit and Kyle Okposo to injury this preseason, the Islanders did their best to remain upbeat heading into last night’s season opener.
No excuses, no giving up.
And the Islanders never did in last night's 5-4 shootout loss to the Stars despite facing a scenario late in the first period that could temper just about any team’s optimism.
With 3:17 left to play in the first period, last season’s star rookie and No. 1 overall pick John Tavares was left face-down and dazed after an open-ice collision with Stars winger Adam Burish. Tavares suffered a “mild” concussion on the play and did not return to the game.
According to a team official, the Islanders have no timetable yet for Tavares, who will undergo further evaluation Monday.
After catching a shoulder from Burish while backchecking, Tavares remained on the ice and appeared shaken while tended to by head trainer Garrett Timms. Tavares was able to skate off to the trainer’s room with help, but did not return to the game.
"You never want to see that happen," said close friend and teammate Matt Moulson. "Especially being so close to Johnny, it's tough to see him like that. Hopefully he's alright and he's ready to go Monday."
To the Islanders credit, they refused to use Tavares' frightening injury, and their two pre-existing ones, as a crutch.
Trailing by two goals at three different points during the game, the team did not fold even without their top defenseman, most versatile forward and prized 20-year-old sniper.
Defenseman James Wisniewski, acquired this summer in a trade with Anaheim, and captain Doug Weight both tallied on the power play to cut two-goal leads in half in the second period.
After Brenden Morrow notched his second goal of the game-- a sneaky backhander at 7:12 of the third-- Blake Comeau answered back with for the Islanders at 8:45 to pull within a goal 4-3.
Then, following a momentum-changing hit from Wisniewski on Jamie Benn late in the third, Matt Moulson tied the game at 17:21 for the team's third power-play goal.
Although the Islanders sent the game into overtime and secured a point, they came up short in the shootout.
After Frans Nielsen, P.A. Parenteau and Matt Moulson failed to convert against Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen, Mike Ribeiro scored the lone goal in the third round, sneaking the puck past Rick DiPietro's right pad for the team's second win in two nights.
"John Tavares goes down, we go down, I let in a terrible second goal and we didn't quit. We've got great veteran leadership and our young guys have enough experience from last year to expect good things out of themselves. I think we took a step in the right direction on that front tonight," said DiPietro, who made 18 saves in his season debut.
Although Tavares’ concussion has been classified as “mild,” the Islanders have seen arguably their three best players go down with injuries before they even completed an entire regular-season game.
Both Streit and Okposo—the team’s two leaders in ice time—suffered shoulder injuries during intra-squad scrimmages.
Streit is expected to miss six months with a torn labrum, torn rotator cuff and an apparent dislocation in his left shoulder suffered after colliding with Matt Moulson on Saturday September 25. Two days earlier, Okposo suffered a torn labrum in his right shoulder during the Islanders' special teams scrimmage.
"It just continues to happen to us, this injury bug," DiPietro said. "Hopefully it's nothing too serious."
After surrendering a pair of goals in the second period, DiPietro settled in for the remaining two periods, allowing his team a chance to stay within striking distance in his first opening night start since October 5, 2007.
But despite DiPietro’s encouraging clean bill of health, the Islanders costly injury issues remain. And for a team already without two of its best players, they’ll be hoping they won’t lose Tavares for long.
"Certainly that's not the way you want to start [the season]," coach Scott Gordon said. 'It's unfortunate because we had big expectations for John. Hopefully, it will be on the mild side."