Preseason is officially underway, and the Islanders opened up a seven-game exhibition slate with a 3-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center on Monday night.
Thomas Hickey, Luca Sbisa and Erik Brown scored for the Islanders, while James van Riemsdyk scored for the Flyers. Semyon Varlamov (10 saves on 11 shots) was credited with the win, but Monday was more about process and evaluation vs results.
The Islanders themselves balanced shaking the summer rust off while finding chemistry on the ice with new linemates. The process wasn't always the prettiest, as the Islanders were reprimanded for a handful of uncharacteristic penalties - including a pair of too many men calls and another for playing with a broken stick - but the group came together and executed when needed.
Video: Islanders edge Flyers, 3-1, in first preseason win
"It was the first competitive game, you could tell there was lots of rust," Head Coach Barry Trotz said. "There were some execution things, along the wall and some penalties [taken]. We had some guys with high commitment and character. I thought penalty kill was good and we got some saves when we needed it...Those [penalties and mistakes] are things we can crack and that we will crack."
Sbisa, who saw game action for the first time since Jan. 12, scored the go-ahead goal 2:24 into the third period after the teams were tied up at one apiece. The Swiss defenseman, who agreed to attend training camp on a professional tryout, blasted a one-timer past Flyers goaltender Alex Lyon, who played the second half of the game in relief of Brian Elliott.
"That was my first game in about eight and a half months," Sbisa said. "I worked for this all of last season and over the summer.
Video: NYI@PHI: Sbisa cranks home heavy slap shot
Hickey got the Islanders on the board first just 2:03 into the first period. Hickey snapped a shot from the point and through the Elliott's pads.
The Flyers tied the score 1-1 with just under five minutes into the second period. Van Riemsdyk buried the puck on the back door after drawing Varlamov out of his crease as he followed the back-and-forth passing series with Jakub Voracek. Brown sealed the Isles victory with an empty-net goal.
Video: NYI@PHI: Hickey beats Elliott to open the scoring
VARLAMOV'S UNOFFICIAL DEBUT:
Semyon Varlamov and Christopher Gibson split the net for the duration of the duration of the game. Varlmaov got the starting nod and his unofficial debut in an Islanders uniform and first time he played a game since April 6.
"It was a lot of fun tonight," Varlamov said. "It's nice to be back on the ice and playing a game. It's been a long summer. I was just excited to play the game tonight...The first game you're nervous because you haven't played for a long time and you want to do good. It's a new team and a new group of guys. But when the puck dropped all of the nerves went away and I just tried to stick to the game plan.
Video: NYI@PHI: Gibson makes back-to-back saves
The 31-year-old Russian made 10 saves on 11 shots and looked sharp early with a quick glove save in tight on Mikhail Vorobyev. Gibson relieved Varlamov midway through the second period and denied all 15 shots he faced.
"[Varlamov] was very poised," Trotz said. "It was tough on the goal that he gave up, but we missed it a bit there. And then Gibby through the two power plays was scrambling around and made a couple of good saves."
TROTZ THE PROCESS:
Prior to puck drop, Trotz told players of all levels in the organization to take advantage of the preseason games. With 70 players on the training camp roster, infiltrating the opening night roster won't be easy and will require making a lasting impression, like 6'0, 189 lbs. Kyle Burroughs stepping up on - and fighting - 6'2, 242 lbs. Chris Stewart. But even for the players who don't crack the Islanders, Trotz urged them to learn, develop and absorb from their respective counterparts, the coaching staff and these experiences.
"The best advice I can give any player is look around, assess the competition, know your competition, outcompete them, outwork them and obviously, outproduce them if eventually the opportunity becomes available," Trotz said. "If you do that on a daily basis in practice or in games it's up to us as coaches and organizationally to recognize that and reward that."
That message sticks to a player like Sbisa, who is looking to crack a deep Isles blue line.
"We have a lot of depth in every position. I think it brings the best out of every player," Sbisa said. "There's always spots to be taken no matter how deep your lineup is. That's what my mindset is just to come here, work hard and do my best."
Kieffer Bellows left in the first period after he caught a puck to the face. The Isles' 2016 first-round pick (19th overall) returned for the second period.
Colin McDonald also left in the first period after taking a Justin Braun off the leg. McDonald also returned in the second period and played the remainder of the game.
Coach Trotz confirmed during media availability before the start of the game that he would man the bench for all seven preseason games. "Coaches have to get back into the rhythm of things too," Trotz explained. "It's no different. We have four months off also. You forget things or get rusty. You need this to get back as well."
The Islanders and Flyers meet again on Tuesday night at NYCB Live - Nassau Coliseum. Tuesday's roster has not been announced yet. Puck drop is at 7 p.m. Tickets are on sale here.