The $1.1 billion UBS Arena delivered on its promise of being the state-of-the-art home the Islanders have long sought. That’s great for the franchise’s long-term outlook. Short term, things are a little murky as the team deals with a COVID-19 outbreak.
Despite a makeshift lineup, the Islanders were energized in christening their new home as Brock Nelson scored twice in the team’s best performance of late. Still, their losing streak grew to five games as the Flames won, 5-2, before a loud sellout crowd of 17,255, the final score inflated by two empty-net goals.
"We played a little bit more to the Islander identity that I’m used to, that the fans are used to and what we expect organizationally," coach Barry Trotz said. "We played with emotion. We played with resiliency. We were there at the end. We just couldn’t get it tied up."
Still, the last-place Islanders (5-7-2), who opened the season with a 13-game road trip, have allowed at least four goals in each of the five losses and have been outscored 24-6.
Semyon Varlamov made 26 saves for the Islanders. Jacob Markstrom stopped 34 shots for the Flames.
Defensemen Adam Pelech and Andy Greene and left wing Anthony Beauvillier were added to the Islanders’ COVID-19 protocol list on Saturday, joining Anders Lee, Josh Bailey and Ross Johnston. Ryan Pulock (lower body) is out for four to six weeks.
"I’m really disappointed," Trotz said. "You think about Anders Lee and Josh Bailey and Pelech and Pulock, all the guys that are out. I sent them a little text because they’re the ones who have put a lot of the blood, sweat and tears into keeping this team competitive, having to go through the Coliseum, Barclays [Center], back to the Coliseum. They’re the ones that have grinded through a lot of that and they got to miss that opportunity.
"It was a little bit of a messy 24 hours because of the COVID thing," said Trotz, adding that he put together at least four different lineups throughout the course of the day.
Forwards Richard Panik and Andy Andreoff — both with NHL experience — and defensemen Grant Hutton and Paul LaDue were recalled from the Islanders’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport. All but LaDue dressed for the game.
"It’s tough," defenseman Scott Mayfield said. "You find about Bails first, and it’s tough because he’s been here the longest and he’s gone through some tough years with this organization. This happens and we’ve all been looking forward to this date. Just a tough couple of days."
Hutton and defenseman Robin Salo, called up on Thursday, were given the honor of a rookie lap at the rookie arena, becoming the first Islanders to skate in uniform in front of a crowd in the building.
"It was unbelievable," Hutton said. "I’ve been with the organization for about three years now and you always look forward to the first one. Being able to have the first one here at the first game at UBS is a pretty special feeling. I feel for the guys that deserve to be out there and couldn’t."
Andreoff skated with Nelson and right wing Oliver Wahlstrom, and Panik was on Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s left wing along with Kyle Palmieri. Salo was paired with Mayfield and Hutton skated with Sebastian Aho. Salo and Panik were used on the power play.
The Islanders trailed 2-1 after a well-played first period marred only by Matt Martin’s turnover in the defensive zone that led to Brad Richardson’s goal to give the Flames a 1-0 lead at 4:05.
Andrew Mangiapane twice deflected shots by defenseman Noah Hanifin for power-play goals, making it 2-0 at 13:18 of the first period and 3-1 at 6:43 of the second period.
Nelson roofed a power-play shot at the crease with 22.8 seconds remaining in the first period off Panik’s feed from the left corner, which withstood a challenge from Flames coach Darryl Sutter.
Nelson then cut the deficit to 3-2 at 1:49 of the third period, swiping in an unassisted goal at the crease. He finished with a game-high six shots.
The then-Atlanta Flames also beat the Islanders in the first game at Nassau Coliseum, 3-2, on Oct. 7, 1972, in the first-ever game for both franchises.