As a franchise, the New York Islanders have waited most of their 49-season existence to play home games in a modern hockey arena.
For the current iteration of the Islanders, it only feels like 49 years since they last played a home game.
The Islanders will finally return home for the long-awaited opening of UBS Arena Saturday night, when New York is slated to host the Calgary Flames in Elmont, N.Y.
Islanders long road home
The Islanders ended their franchise-record 13-game road trip Tuesday night with their fourth straight defeat, a 6-1 loss to the Florida Panthers. The Flames continued their season-long seven-game road trip Thursday night by blanking the Buffalo Sabres, 5-0.
The Islanders fared well in the middle of the second-longest road trip in NHL history, but a rough start and finish has them in last place in the Metropolitan Division at 5-6-2. New York, which fell to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the NHL semifinals each of the last two seasons, opened the trip by being outscored 11-4 in back-to-back losses to the Carolina Hurricanes and Panthers — and then recorded points in seven straight games (5-0-2) before being outscored 19-4 by the Minnesota Wild, New Jersey Devils, Lightning and Panthers.
The Islanders also lost defenseman Ryan Pulock (lower body injury) and center Josh Bailey (tested positive for COVID-19) during the Florida leg of the trip. In addition, center Anders Lee and left winger Ross Johnston entered the COVID-19 protocols Friday morning.
“It’s turned into a nightmare the last little while here,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said Tuesday night. “We’re looking forward to getting back. We’ll open that arena, hopefully it’ll give us some new energy, a new focus, whatever it is.”
UBS Arena is slated to feature the modern amenities lacking at Nassau Coliseum, where the Islanders played from their founding in 1972 through the 2014-15 season. It’s will also feature a hockey-specific experience and Island-based location that was missing at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The team played just two full seasons at Barclays before announcing plans to build the new arena at Belmont Park in December 2017.
Home games were split between Barclays Center and Nassau Coliseum during the 2018-19 and 2019-20 season before the Islanders spent the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 campaign at the Coliseum. New York closed out the Coliseum with a 3-2 overtime win over the Lightning in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals on June 23.
The Islanders skated at UBS Arena for the first time Thursday.
“It’s got a different feel,” Trotz said. “There was a little pep in the step.”
“Absolutely blew me away,” Mathew Barzal said via NHL.com. “I walked right in, saw the gym, saw our eating area and I couldn’t wait to see more. The entire facility, the rink and how it’s set up, it’s so high-end. I can’t even tell you how nice it is down here (in the locker room). We’re a pretty lucky group.”
A tough first opponent
The Flames’ road trip — their longest since a seven-game trek from Feb. 24 through Mar. 8, 2015 — has been far smoother than the one endured by the Islanders. After opening with a 4-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Nov. 11, Calgary has collected points in four straight games (2-0-2) while outscoring its foes 11-4.
Overall this season, the Flames have allowed just 34 goals — second-fewest in the NHL behind only the Carolina Hurricanes, who have played two fewer games. Goalie Jacob Markstrom recorded his league-leading fifth shutout by stopping all 27 shots he faced Thursday, when Calgary scored all its goals in the first two periods, including three times in a span of 1:37 late in the second.
“We got off to an early lead and didn’t really look back,” said Matthew Tkachuk, who collected a goal and added two assists. “In the third, we were kind of just playing for Marky there.”
The game Saturday marks the second time the Islanders have opened a building against the Flames. New York fell to the then-Atlanta Flames, 3-2, in a battle of expansion teams at Nassau Coliseum on Oct. 7, 1972.
–Field Level Media