Opening up new homes don’t seem to be the New York Islanders’ thing.
A 5-2 loss to the Calgary Flames on Saturday night provided an inauspicious start to life at UBS Arena for a team that lost its previous openers by scores of 3-2 at Nassau Coliseum 49 years ago and Barclays Center seven years ago.
It also extends the Islanders’ losing skid to five straight games.
The result was almost expected considering president and general manager Lou Lamoriello announced just two hours before puck drop that second-line winger Anthony Beauvillier along with defensemen Adam Pelech and Andy Greene joined Anders Lee, Josh Bailey, and Ross Johnston within the NHL’s COVID protocols. Just another blow for a team that also lost defenseman Ryan Pulock for four-to-six weeks due to a lower-body injury.
It forced the Islanders to trot out a weakened lineup that featured NHL debuts for defensemen Robin Salo — a top prospect — and Grant Hutton, both of whom were called up from Bridgeport to supplement the losses on the blue line.
But Brock Nelson’s two goals kept the Islanders in it for a majority of the evening in an admirable effort, though his side was perpetually playing catch-up when his second goal early in the third period drew the Islanders within one.
Despite outshooting the Flames 14-7 in the final frame, the Islanders were unable to beat Jacob Markstrom to draw level, opening the door for two Calgary empty-netters in the final 1:15 of the game to skew the scoreline.
New York’s weakened squad managed to outshoot the Flames 36-31 on Saturday night, but special teams haunted them. The Islanders went 1-for-6 on the power play while the Flames were 2-for-4 — a clear difference-maker.
The visitors scored the first-ever goal at UBS Arena 4:05 into the game when Matt Martin’s spinning clearance attempt — an unnecessary maneuver with clear ice ahead of him — sent a pass in front of Semyon Varlamov’s goal right to the stick of Brad Richardson, who went in alone and easily slotted a wrister into the back of the net.
They doubled their lead with 6:42 to go in the frame on the power play — shortly after killing off a second Islanders man advantage — when Andrew Mangiapane deflected a point shot past Varlamov, who was meandering the other way.
Calgary continued giving the Islanders chances, though, committing two more penalties during the first period alone. The final one of the frame finally provided a breakthrough as Brock Nelson — off a slick helper from Richard Panik in his season debut — roofed a wrister over Jacob Markstrom with 22 seconds left in the period.
It was originally waived off, but replays quickly confirmed that Nelson’s shot hit off the camera in the back of the net before clanging out.
After coming up empty on a fifth power play early in the second, a Zdeno Chara hooking penalty swayed momentum back toward the Flames, who cashed in on their man-advantage 6:43 into the second period — Noah Hanifin’s shot from the point beating Varlamov.
Nelson nabbed his and the Islanders’ second just 1:49 into the third period, immediately injecting life into a UBS Arena that had snoozed through the second. He was gifted a golden chance at the doorstep after a Flames defender swatted the puck into his path right in front of Markstrom. One flick of the wrist was all the team’s leading scorer needed for his ninth of the season.
It sparked the Islanders’ strongest push of the night as Zach Parise came tantalizingly close with a pair of chance in front just moments later before Kyle Palmieri worked out a dangerous chance of his own in front — all to which Markstrom turned away.