There have been more than a few October nights like last night in Nassau Coliseum in recent seasons. An unfamiliar opponent, a less-than-capacity crowd and an Islanders team that didn't rise to the occasion to assert itself at home.
"Things are different," Josh Bailey said after the Islanders ran past the Coyotes, 6-1, before an announced crowd of 10,288. "We expect to win. It's only three games and we're not going to get ahead of ourselves, but we had everyone contributing tonight."
The win, helped by Evgeni Nabokov's 33 saves, left the Islanders 2-0-1, their best start since a 3-0-0 beginning to the 2001-02 season.
There will be several more nights like last night to come this month, with the Islanders having eight of their first 12 games at home and a few more of the weaker crowd draws coming up (Sabres, Oilers, Hurricanes).
The Islanders will have to make their own momentum and play the sort of game they did for stretches Tuesday night, when their speed and a few good bounces counteracted Phoenix's physical style.
Peter Regin had his first goal as an Islander just 1:49 into the game after Brock Nelson sprung Regin off a neutral-zone turnover.
John Tavares scored next, on a five-on-three from the left faceoff circle; the Islanders converted only two of eight two-man chances last season and were pleased to score on their first of this season.
"It was good to get the monkey off our back on the five-on-three," said Jack Capuano, who wasn't thrilled with the lack of consistent forecheck in the first two periods.
"We have some things to work on. Tonight, we got some bounces, let's not kid ourselves."
Matt Donovan scored from the point on a second-period power play for his first NHL goal, quickly answered by the Coyotes' Martin Hanzal 43 seconds later.
But Tavares scored his second just 2:19 after that, his feed for Michael Grabner deflecting off defenseman David Schlemko's stick and past Mike Smith to restore a three-goal lead.
"We had confidence with the lead," said Tavares, whose team couldn't finish off Columbus on Saturday at home with a two-goal lead in the third.
Colin McDonald scored to chase Smith after two periods and Bailey capped the scoring with a tic-tac-toe passing play from Grabner and Frans Nielsen, each of whom had three assists.
The thrill of Saturday's home opener, with a sellout Coliseum crowd, could have felt dimmed by the much sparser Tuesday night audience. But there can be no excuses for a team that needs as many points at home as it can grab with this early stretch.
The Isles' 10-11-3 home record last season was worst among the 16 playoff teams.
"Sometimes you have that tendency to have a little bit of a letdown after the high of the opener," said Bailey, who added two assists.
"We had a lot of guys chipping in, getting going early, and that goes a long way towards gaining confidence."