ELMONT, N.Y. — There’s a reason why New York Islanders fans have been calling this month “Brocktober,” for the better part of the last decade.
Veteran center Brock Nelson got off his usual fast start on the Islanders’ opening night of the season on Saturday at UBS Arena in a 3-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres, recording a goal and an assist. It’s nothing new for the 32-year-old, who ushered in his birthday on Sunday by padding his stat line on the first game of the season.
In 11 career opening nights, Nelson has recorded six goals and six assists (12 points). Over 88 career games in the month of October, he has 33 goals and 36 assists (69 points).
“I don’t think there’s anything particular,” Nelson said of his fast starts. “I think everyone just wants to feel good about their game. Whatever the reason, it’s been good for me. So hopefully, there’s more of that.”
He found the back of the net just 5:57 into the season as he was the benefactor of a strong forecheck from his linemate, Pierre Engvall, who stripped Sabres defenseman Connor Clifton at the blue line and laid a pass to Nelson who was streaking into the left circle. With a flick of the wrist, Nelson’s shot fizzed under the glove of Sabres goalie Devon Levi to put the Islanders in front.
“[Engvall] drives the possession with his speed and his puck protection,” Nelson said of his linemate. “He’s great down low, he’s great in the neutral-zone space, so he can beat you in a number of different ways.”
Another Engvall steal at the blue line late in the first period presented the Islanders with possession in the Sabres zone against a defense in disarray. A shot from defenseman Ryan Pulock was saved by Levi, but Nelson pounced on the rebound and sent a shot from in close that grazed the skate of the third member of New York’s second line, Kyle Palmieri, before bouncing off the skate of Clifton and into the net with 1:42 remaining.
“Nellie was skating, I thought Engvall was skating, he created the first goal and I thought Palmieri was doing his thing,” Islanders head coach Lane Lambert said. “Goals are created by Kyle Palmieri when he’s in front of the net.”
The fast start was a carry-over from last season as the trio of Nelson, Palmieri, and Engvall were the Islanders’ most valuable line that helped them sneak into the playoffs. In just 14 regular-season games together after Engvall was acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs, the line attributed 15 goals and a plus-9 rating as Nelson finished the season with a team-high 36 goals.
A continuation of their high level of play could create an imposing top-six for New York, which boasts Mathew Barzal and Bo Horvat on its top line. That unit put together a strong start with Simon Holmstrom on their right-wing on Saturday, combining to post 11 shots on goal on 14 attempts — though they couldn’t find the back of the net in the opener.
“Our confidence is pretty high,” Nelson said of his line. “The chemistry we had last year was nice so to have that familiar start adds a bit of excitement. But even if it worked then, you and collectively as a line want to try and drive the plan, the offense to help the team.
“We pride ourselves in our depth. So with us three, for us, it’s continue to do more of the same and knowing that it’s also not going to come easy. So we have to go out there and work for it.”