The New York Islanders suffered their first preseason loss on Saturday night, falling 4-3 to the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center.
Leo Komarov, Mathew Barzal and Otto Koivula scored for the Islanders (3-1-0), who played catchup all night, able to tie the score three times, but never able to take a lead on a young Devils squad. It certainly wasn't for a lack of shots, as the Isles outshot the Devils 45-21, but the Devils made the most of their opportunities.
Jesper Boqvist scored a pair of power-play goals - including the game-winner with 4:03 to play in the third - while Nikita Gusev and Will Butcher found the back of the net for New Jersey.
"I thought we played OK. We put up close to 50 shots," Head Coach Barry Trotz said. "I thought we managed the game to do a lot of good things in our game. Unfortunately, we didn't manage special teams. A couple of decisions with the puck ended up in the back of our net."
TOP LINE REUNITED:
Trotz took a night off from mixing and matching potential line combinations to reunite the Islanders top line of Anders Lee, Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle.
The result: 15 combined shots and one goal from the top line, who spent a lot of time in what Trotz called the "fun zone."
"They were good. They were dancing around. They were making plays," Trotz said. "They were all working, they were all skating, they had that little bit of chemistry. That's what you're hoping for."
The Isles' top line accounted for a third of the Islanders' shots on Saturday and spent the bulk of their time in the Devils end. They were eventually rewarded in the second period, when Barzal cashed in off a nifty cross-ice feed from Thomas Hickey. Overall - and despite the loss - the line said they felt like they had picked up where they left off in the playoffs.
"We created a lot tonight, we had a lot of chances," Lee said. "We couldn't get more than one to go, but we're walking away from the game pretty satisfied in picking up where we like to say we left off. We found each other quite a bit tonight, but wish we could have put a couple more in."
That's exactly what Trotz wanted to see.
KOVIULA AND KOMAROV SCORE FIRST OF PRESEASON:
Otto Koivula and Leo Komarov both found the back of the net on Saturday night. Komarov deflected a Noah Dobson shot past Cory Schneider for the Isles first goal to make it 1-1, while Koivula hit a bullseye high short side in the third.
Koivula's shot turned some heads in the Prudential Center press box, but looked like business as usual to Komarov, as the two Finns skated together over the summer.
"He's a really skilled player, a big player," Komarov said. "He's really good. He just needs to get it going."
Koivula centered Komarov and Kieffer Bellows on Saturday night and finished the game with a goal, two hits and won six-of-12 face-offs in 16:05 TOI. If the line looked like it had some chemistry, it's because Koivula spent a summer with Komarov and played with Bellows at times - including the playoffs - in Bridgeport last season. They didn't have an easy assignment either, drawing a lot of matchups against Nico Hischier's line.
Jesper Boqvist opened and closed the scoring with power-play goals on Saturday, but Trotz said not to read too much into it, as he used the game to test out some new penalty killers including Mathew Barzal and Nick Leddy, seeing who excels and embraces the challenge.
On the penalty killing side, we're trying guys right now that have never killed in their life. That's the difficulty of it, it's a good league," Trotz said. "Everybody should be able to kill penalties. It doesn't matter. Some guys do it much better than others and others are more committed. But if you can do it and you do it fairly well you're going to get more ice time. That's how you eat up ice time."
The power play went 0-2 on the night, but Trotz was encouraged by some of the early changes instituted by Jim Hiller. The Isles have spent the past few days working on their special teams in practice.
"The biggest difference is we're getting pucks to the net," Trotz said. "You can't score if you're not getting pucks to the net. We were looking for a tap-in all of the time and the next play and the next play. The mentality has changed. We're getting pucks to the net and we're going to make it tough on you."
Simon Holmstrom made one of his dreams come true on Saturday night, taking the ice in an NHL game. The Isles 2019 first-round pick (23rd overall) skated 10:06 on a line with Mason Jobst and Tom Kuhnhackl, and recorded one shot.
"It was unbelievable," Holmstrom said. "Really fun, high-speed game and too bad we lost, but a fun experience."
The Islanders have Sunday off, but get back into game action on Monday when they host the Detroit Red Wings at NYCB Live.