Nothing is comparable to the feeling of playing at home. As the stakes escalate, analysts debate its importance and whether home field advantage is a measurable attribute. When the New York Islanders play on home ice against a Western Conference opponent, there’s no dispute of that notion. Since moving to the Barclays Center during the 2015-16 season, the Islanders held a record of 22-4-4 against the West and solidified their fortitude with a 5-3 win over the San Jose Sharks in their first home game since Columbus Day.
“I’d like to read into it and figure out what it is, (the success against the Western Conference), but we feel very comfortable at home,” Islanders’ head coach Doug Weight said. Two of the bad stints we had over the last few years were runs where we had nine out of ten at home, and that’s never a good recipe for anybody, but besides that, it’s been a pretty consistent effort here. We have good results, and I’m not going to overthink that.
When the Islanders play on home ice, they express a specific confidence and tenacity that elevates their play. The characteristics were on full display during the second period as both teams collected three goals in a 2:05 spurt in the second period. Following Logan Couture’s power-play goal off a Brent Burns deflection, Anders Lee connected in front of the crease for the first of two goals, and Josh Bailey used an array of dekes to give the Isles the lead after intercepting a pass from Joe Thornton in his own zone.
“We are trying to play good hockey right now and play one game at a time. I know it sounds cliché, but I think it’s the way you get the best results,” Bailey said. “Obviously, when you can go on a streak, you want to ride it as long as you can. We are not there yet. We still got some things we want to address and get better at, but I think we are all in all happy with the win.”
“He (Bailey) looks really good. (The deke) was obviously a great move, but also some of the passes he made throughout the game were also important,” Weight said about Bailey. “He looks mature and ready to take another step like he did last year. I feel like I can put Bails with a young guy and he is good defensively. He will get pucks out of the zone and block shots.”
The Sharks applied relentless pressure in the third period on the Islanders’ defense collecting 16 shots on goal, including a late goal by Couture for his second career hat trick, but the Islanders took advantage of their opportunities with a strong forecheck and regained the lead on goals from Andrew Ladd and Lee. Although the Sharks outshot the Islanders by a ten-shot margin in the final period, the confidence never waved for Weight and his defensive unit, who were able to preserve the lead.
“We were playing a good team that generates chances,” Weight said regarding the Sharks. “They are great pros, but they are a familiar team. They know where everybody is and they know what they are trying to achieve when they are on the ice together. It’s formidable, but I don’t think I was intimidated by it. They tilted the ice for awhile, and we took a few too many penalties, but I felt good about our position.”
In their first two seasons playing at the Barclays Center, the Islanders convincingly protected home ice, winning nearly 60 percent of their games. Unlike most NHL arenas, the Barclays Center features its share of unique quirks due to its basketball-style configuration and its unorthodox alignment compared to other multi-purpose facilities. While the Barclays Center garnered considerable attention for its hockey layout, its home team quickly adjusted to its surroundings and subtly attained success playing in the arena.
“It’s something you want to take pride in playing on home ice,” Bailey said. “I’m not sure how much there is in playing the Western Conference. Sometimes it’s one of those stats that goes in your favor. I think we enjoy playing here in front of our fans because it’s motivating.”
“Just like it is for us going out west, it’s tough to do all of that traveling and get in a few games,” Lee said. “When teams play three games in four nights, we have to take advantage of that, and at the same time it is our home ice, and with the crowd behind us, we have to be ready to go because home games will carry us during the tough times of the year. It’s obviously great to start this way at home.”
During their run to Stanley Cup glory in the early 1980s, the Islanders’ home at the Nassau Coliseum became unofficially known as “Fort Neverlose” after winning 19 consecutive playoff series over a four-year span. As the Islanders honored their past with former stars such as Bryan Trottier, Patrick Flatley, and Brad Dalgarno returning for the team’s alumni weekend, the temperament of “Fort Neverlose” resonates at their new home on a smaller scale.