The New York Islanders were never worried about going winless this season. But for a team with Stanley Cup aspirations and no home games until the weekend before Thanksgiving, Tuesday's first win could not have come at a more opportune time.
The Islanders will look to win their second straight Thursday night, when New York continues a historic road trip by visiting the Columbus Blue Jackets in a battle of Metropolitan Division rivals.
Both teams were off Wednesday after playing Tuesday, when Ilya Sorokin carried a shutout into the final minute of the Islanders' 4-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks and the host Blue Jackets allowed four third-period goals in a 4-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings.
The win snapped a season-opening two-game losing streak for the Islanders, who were outscored 11-4 by a pair of fellow potential Stanley Cup contenders, the Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers.
But despite the absence of captain Anders Lee, who was scratched shortly before faceoff with what appeared to be a stomach illness, New York was never seriously threatened Tuesday. Sorokin made 31 of his 39 saves in the first two periods before Oliver Wahlstrom scored twice in the third to fuel a three-goal final period.
"(Sorokin) was our best player in the first period until we got our legs under us a little," Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said. "I wanted him to get the shutout. He deserved the shutout. But we failed in the last few seconds."
While the Islanders, loaded with veterans fresh off back-to-back trips to the NHL semifinals, aren't the type of team to panic in the midst of a losing streak in October, Trotz recognized Tuesday's game amounted to something close to a must-win.
New York is in the midst of a 13-game road trip -- one shy of the NHL record -- and isn't scheduled to play its first game at the franchise's new home, UBS Arena, until Nov. 20.
"We had some urgency," Trotz said. "We were sitting here with no points. We're still on the road trip for the next month, roughly. We had to get something going here."
Trotz said Wednesday that Lee is feeling better and likely to suit up Thursday.
While the Islanders got off to a slower start than expected, the Blue Jackets -- a consensus pick to finish last in the Metro after embarking upon a rebuilding project over the summer -- won their first two games by a combined margin of 10-3 before struggling Tuesday. The Red Wings outshot Columbus 31-13 during a scoreless first two periods before finally breaking through.
The Red Wings scored just twice against goalie Joonas Korpisalo, who made 41 saves and was pulled for the extra attacker for Detroit's final two goals.
"You could see it all night. He made some huge saves and gave us a chance," Blue Jackets head coach Brad Larsen said. "But we weren't good enough in front of him."
The Islanders and Blue Jackets didn't play last season, when they were placed in realigned divisions to cut down on travel during the pandemic. Columbus won the most recent meeting between the teams Dec. 23, 2019, when Vladislav Gavrikov scored the tie-breaking goal late in the third period of a 3-2 victory in Uniondale, N.Y.
--Field Level Media