The start of the 2016-17 season hasn’t been easy for the newest members of the New York Islanders or for the team. But Monday night at the Barclays Center, the team and their newest players got some much-needed relief in a 4-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks.
Andrew Ladd and Jason Chimera were both signed as free agents last summer to replace the departed Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen and both veterans had yet to score after 12 games this season. Both scored key goals tonight in their 13th game with the Islanders.
Chimera tied the game at 1-1 midway through the first period off a pass from Anders Lee. It was Chimera’s first goal as an Islander and also Lee’s first assist of the season.
Ladd scored the clinching goal with 9:10 left in regulation when his screen shot from just inside the blue line beat Canucks goalie Ryan Miller to close out the scoring and give the Islanders a two-goal lead that they never relinquished.
The feeling in the locker room after the game was noticeably lighter. You could feel that a weight had been lifted from both the players in question and the team.
“It’s big for me and Jason [Chimera] just to get that good feeling when you put the puck on the net and it goes in,” Ladd said. “Sometimes all it takes is one and you go from there.”
It was obvious that Ladd was pressing and trying to get his offensive game going. While he came close a few times during the team’s recent five-game home stand, he didn’t dent the twine until tonight.
Coach Jack Capuano tried to get his players going by putting together different line combinations and even giving both Chimera and Ladd chances in recent shootouts. Nothing changed their “puck luck”until they broke through against Vancouver.
Despite their struggles, their teammates remained supportive of both Ladd and Chimera. “Those guys work the hardest and they were pros all the way through it,” defenseman Thomas Hickey said. “They were helping other guys out and now they’re going to start coming, I guarantee it.”
Nikolay Kulemin also scored his first goal of the season in the second period that gave the Isles a 2-1 lead. Captain John Tavares earned the primary assist which extended his personal point streak to five games.
The winning goal, however, came from one of the Islanders most consistent performers this season, Cal Clutterbuck. The veteran forward scored at 9:11 of the third period to put the Isles up 3-2. It was fitting for Clutterbuck to get the big goal on Cal Clutterbuck bobble head night.
The Islanders also got a key contribution from a newcomer tonight. Adam Pelech made his season debut in the NHL, replacing the injured Travis Hamonic who is out for 4-6 weeks with an upper-body injury. Pelech had a solid game, earning his first point of the season when he assisted on Ladd’s goal. Pelech also added two hits and one blocked shot in 17:08 of ice time.
The only major piece of bad news in this win came in the third period when forward Brock Nelson left the ice after being hit behind the Canucks goal. He went to the locker room to be evaluated and returned only briefly for one shift after that. Capuano indicated Nelson would be evaluated by the team’s doctors on Tuesday.
Overall, the Islanders felt relieved to finally earn a win and to get some of their slumping players going. “The last few games we’ve played well, we just haven’t got results,” Capuano said. “It’s good for the guys to get that feeling because they really deserved it. When you shot the puck, good things happen.”
The Islanders return to action Thursday when they travel to Tampa Bay to face the Lightning. They hope tonight’s win is the start of a good run for the players who finally scored and for the team.