Islanders defense goes through growing pains in season opener vs. Panthers

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Florida Panthers right wing Patric Hornqvist (70) scores a goal past New York Islanders goaltender Ilya Sorokin during the third period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022, in Elmont, N.Y. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

For a team that had been one of the best offensive squads during the regular season last year, the Islanders’ young defensive group did its best to contain them on Thursday night in the season opener at UBS Arena. 

But in the end, it was the Panthers that had come away with a win over the Islanders, taking advantage of a younger defensive group that was still getting its legs underneath them. Robin Salo, for instance, finished the night a minus-2 along with a giveaway and had been on the ice for the go-ahead goal 3:43 into the game’s final period. 

Forward Casey Cizikas lost the puck along the boards and after the puck moved back to the middle of the ice, Salo lost Patric Hornqvist allowing the Florida forward to get the rebound and wraparound goal.

“I think I tried to make a play in the middle and it went straight to their guy,” Salo said. “He shot it and then just did a wraparound. It just all happened pretty fast.” 

Thursday’s season opener on Long Island wasn’t Salo’s first go around in the NHL — he appeared in 21 games last season and recorded five points (one goal, four assists) — but with the Islanders opting to return a majority of their lineup this year Salo is seeing an increased role with the club. 

He played 11:28 as part of the team’s third pair along with veteran defender Scott Mayfield.

“I just think we have to review the game and watched the clips,” Salo said about the increased responsibility and the loss. “Try to learn from the mistakes and try to play a better game on Saturday. Just gotta take it in, learn it and do it better next time.”

New York’s other young gun on the blue line, Alexander Romanov, had some growing pains of his own as well as some flashes. He was the Islanders’ big offseason acquisition and new head coach Lane Lambert certainly gave him the chance to make a mark against the Panthers. 

He played a team-high 22:24, but also had a team-high four turnovers in the loss. Romanov also recorded a game-high nine blocked shots.

“Well he had a number of hits and I thought he’s working his way into the penalty kill system well,” Lambert said. “There was some good moments for him in that situation. I think just like every other player they’re progressing.” 

New York’s defense as a whole is sure to go through some of the growing pains, not just the Salos and Romanovs as the team adjusts to the new intricacies of Lambert’s system. 

“I think yeah,” Noah Dobson said about the growing pains. “I think when you saw it we played quick, we had success with it, so I think it’s just trying to sustain it for three periods.” 

For more on the Islanders, visit AMNY.com

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