Tavares, Cizikas spark Islanders to rout of Sabres
NEW YORK — Whether it was intentional or not, the cover and inside contents of the New York Islanders’ game program for Saturday night’s home opener acknowledged the trio of issues that loom over the club as it enters its third season at Barclays Center.
If cover subject John Tavares plays like he did Saturday, perhaps everything will work out for the Islanders.
Tavares scored the first two goals Saturday for the Islanders, who rode a second-period flurry to a 6-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres.
Tavares’ exploits helped quiet what threatened to turn into an early-season crisis for the Islanders, who were routed 5-0 in their season opener Friday night by the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“We were just disappointed with the way the game went last night,” Tavares said. “We just wanted to rebound and make sure we had no excuses after the game. But certainly, we know we’ve got the talent to win a lot of games.”
The big question is where the Islanders’ talent — especially Tavares — will play in the coming years.
Tavares, the superstar center and captain who is in the last year of his contract, appears content to play the season out as the franchise tries to finally find a long-term home. The Islanders moved to Barclays Center prior to the 2015-16 season, but both the team and the arena can opt out of a 25-year lease in January.
The first two inside pages of the program feature letters from Jon Ledecky, the Islanders’ co-owner, and Brett Yormark, who is the CEO of Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, which operates Barclays Center as well as Long Island’s refurbished Nassau Coliseum, which housed the Islanders from 1972 through 2015.
Last month, Ledecky and fellow owner Scott Malkin bid to build an arena at Belmont Park on Long Island. Yormark said he hopes the Islanders can return to Nassau Coliseum on a temporary or permanent basis, even though the NHL has said the facility is no longer suitable for the franchise.
The crowd of 15,234 — about 500 shy of capacity — had to be soothed by the symbolism of Tavares opening the scoring just 1:50 into the first period. His next goal was the first of three in a span of 1:47 early in the second.
Tavares scored the Islanders’ first goal at Barclays in October 2015 and tallied in overtime of Game 6 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Florida Panthers in April 2016 to send the team into the second round for the first time since 1993.
“It’s always appropriate, right?” Islanders head coach Doug Weight said of Tavares’ opening goals. “It was a frustrating game (Friday) night and we didn’t respond well and John was a part of it. We got down two and for whatever reason — you’re going to get some bad breaks, but we just started turning the puck over and getting a little individual.
“It was good (Saturday),” Weight said. “(Tavares) kind of grass-rooted it.”
The Islanders’ first two goals in the second were short-handed. Casey Cizikas scored 50 seconds after Tavares before Josh Bailey’s goal chased Robin Lehner exactly seven minutes into the period.
Evander Kane scored a pair of short-handed goals later in the second for the Sabres.
“It was a pretty weird game, wasn’t it, with all the short-handed goals?” Buffalo head coach Phil Housley said.
The Islanders’ Anthony Beauvillier and Buffalo’s Jack Eichel traded goals in the third before Cizikas’ empty-netter capped the scoring with 24.5 seconds left for New York, which avoided a second straight 0-2-0 start.
The Islanders had the worst record in the league at the end of Thanksgiving weekend last season before surging into playoff contention and missing the postseason by one point.
“I’ve been on teams that have started poorly and confidence-wise, it buries you,” said Islanders center Jordan Eberle, who played the first seven seasons of his career with the Edmonton Oilers before being traded to New York on June 22. “I know it’s only game two, but it was definitely a pivotal game.”
The Sabres (0-1-1), who fell to the Montreal Canadiens in 3-2 shootout loss Thursday, are winless through two games for the fourth time in five seasons.
“We were supposed to be the fresh team coming in,” Housley said. “I think that’s the first thing we’ve got to address. A team that’s played back-to-back and then had to travel, we should have been jumping on them.”
Jaroslav Halak made 26 saves for the Islanders. Lehner recorded 12 saves before Chad Johnson stopped 15 shots in relief for the Sabres.
NOTES: The Islanders improved to 27-12-1-4 (wins-losses-ties-overtime losses) in home openers. ... The Sabres played their first road game against the Islanders for the fourth time (1979-80, 2007-08 and 2008-09). ... The Islanders scratched RW Cal Clutterbuck (lower body), D Ryan Pulock and D Dennis Seidenberg. ... The Sabres scratched D Zach Bogosian (lower body), D Josh Gorges and C Jordan Nolan.