It wasn’t a thing of beauty, but two points are two points, and that’s what the Islanders got in their season opener.
Casey Cizikas tipped home an Adam Pelech shot at 13:40 to break a 2-2 tie, and the Islanders held on to beat the Buffalo Sabres 3-2 in front of a capacity crowd of 17,250 on opening night at UBS Arena. Ilya Sorokin was outstanding, stopping 26 of 28 saves to notch the win after the Islanders had let a 2-0 first period lead slip away.
There was some drama following the Cizikas game-winning goal, though.
At first, it looked like the puck might have been re-directed with a high stick, but the Sabres challenged that the backward skating Noah Dobson had brought the puck into the zone offsides. After video review, it was determined to be a good goal.
And then the full house was able to celebrate the go-ahead goal for a second time.
“I knew beforehand that my stick wasn’t high,” said Cizikas. “I really didn’t get a good look at how Dobber came across the blue line with the puck. We were holding our breath there on the bench for a little bit and Dobber made a really good play of keeping control of it and keeping that play alive that led to the goal.”
The Islanders came out of the gates on fire in the first period. In true “Brocktober” fashion, Brock Nelson, the Isles’ leading scorer last season, opened the scoring at 5:57 on a nice feed from Pierre Engvall. With less than two minutes to go in the period, Nelson’s shot from the side of the net deflected off of Kyle Palmieri’s skate, then off of Sabres defenseman Connor Clifton and past Sabres goalie Devon Levi for a 2-0 lead that the Islanders took into the first intermission.
Nelson was named the game’s first star.
“It’s always nice to start off on the right foot,” said Nelson. “It’s been a long week for us. I think everyone was excited to get out here, get the opener and get back into real action. The building was full of energy and the guys were fired up and ready to play.”
In the second period, the Islanders were guilty of a lot of standing around, puck watching, and turnovers and it ultimately led to the Sabres getting on the board. Ilya Sorokin stood tall, stopping 13 out of 14 Buffalo shots in that second period, but the other one saw Jordan Greenway cut the Isles’ lead in half with a goal at 4:15. The Sabres then tied the game early in the third when Casey Mittelstadt lifted a backhand past Sorokin at 2:34, and that led to the furious finish.
After letting that lead slip away, the Islanders were able to find their game.
“We just kept with it,” said Head Coach Lane Lambert. “That was the bottom line. We didn’t love the fact that they tied the game but we kept with it and it was a good job by our guys.”
With the Islanders on their heels, Sorokin kept the Sabres off the board the rest of the way, and the Islanders were able to get some offensive zone time in the third period – which ultimately it led to the game-winning goal from Cizikas.
Sorokin was not one of the three stars of the game, but without him, the Islanders don’t win this game.
“Solid as always,” said Islanders Captain Anders Lee of Sorokin. “He was great. He’s sprawling around making saves. We got some fortunate bounces too but it’s part of game but when we need him, he was there.”
The Islanders had to wait eight days following their pre-season finale to drop the puck for real on opening night, so there may have been some early rust. They have some things to clean up, but all-in-all a good start to the season on home ice against an up-and-coming Sabres team that is expected to contend for an Eastern Conference playoff spot.
After the opening night win, the Islanders had Sunday off and are expected to get a practice in on Monday before the Arizona Coyotes come to UBS Arena on Tuesday night.