New York Islanders had high expectations and a sellout crowd on hand for their season-opener at the Nassau Coliseum. The new-look Florida Panthers had more jump.
Stephen Weiss and Jason Garrison scored in the first period and Jose Theodore made the lead stand up with 27 saves as the remodeled Panthers beat the Islanders 2-0 on Saturday night, giving Kevin Dineen a win in his first game as an NHL coach in the opener for both teams.
With a full house that included nine original season-ticket holders from the Isles' NHL debut in 1972-73 joining Hall of Famer Mike Bossy for the opening puck drop, logic said the Islanders should have come out energized. Instead, it was the Panthers who dominated from the start.
Florida controlled the first period and finally beat Al Montoya at 16:37 when Tomas Fleischmann backhanded a loose puck back towards Brian Campbell, who got it under control and on target. Montoya stopped his shot, but the rebound trickled into the crease, where Weiss knocked it into the open net.
"It wasn't an easy one," Weiss said, "because I had one in an exhibition game and I hit the post. But whether it was me or somebody else, it was important to get the first goal."
The Panthers had a two-man advantage in the final minute and capitalized when Garrison rocketed a shot from the right circle past a screened Montoya, who had David booth in his lap.
Campbell, acquired in an offseason trade from Chicago, earned his second assist. Weiss said having an offensive defenseman like Campbell gives the Panthers they haven't had in a long time.
"To have a guy like that, it's like night and day, how much more puck possession you have and how much easier it is for the forwards, knowing he's going to make the right play and let you gain ice and gain speed and he's going to hit you in full flight," Weiss said. "It's a pleasure playing with him, because I'm sick of playing against him."
Florida continued to control the play well into the second period -- at one point, the Panthers had outshot the Islanders 22-9.
"I think our speed was the answer," Dineen said of his team's early dominance. "Not so much that it was a run-and-gun game back and forth. We thought we could use our speed to get in a little bit on the forecheck and stop them from getting started."
The Islanders finally woke up, getting 10 of the last 14 shots before intermission.
"We got in the game better, but we certainly didn't have a good start," captain Mark Streit said. "They put the puck deep and forechecked us pretty hard. We had a hard time getting out of our zone. They came through the neutral zone with a lot of speed, kept it simple and advanced the puck. That's the kind of game we want to play."
Theodore, who signed with Florida this summer but struggled during the preseason, didn't face too many challenging shots as his defenders kept the zone clear.
"They were letting me see the puck really well, clearing the rebounds and we were all on the same page," he said after blanking the Isles for the sixth time in his career. "We lost the last preseason game 7-1, we knew we had a long ways to go so we had a solid week of practices. We had a lot of goalie drills and a lot of shots, so I really felt comfortable at the start."
The Islanders' best chance came midway through the third period when Kyle Okposo rang the post to the left of Theodore with a rip from the slot.
"They came at us (in the third period) with both barrels loaded and we reacted well to it," Dineen said.
To say the Islanders were disappointed was an understatement.
"We wanted to start with a win," Streit said. "We had a great crowd, a good atmosphere and a good feeling, but we lost the game. We know we can play better."
New York opens with four in a row at home and will need a much better effort when the Minnesota Wild come to Long Island on Monday afternoon.
"We didn't create the offense tonight and we didn't get to the paint and that's the result of turnovers and not paying the price to get there," Isles coach Jack Capuano said. "That's the one thing we'll address and we'll do a better job of that."