UNIONDALE, N.Y. — It certainly didn't have the feel of the first preseason game of the season on a Sunday afternoon when many sports fans are glued to a TV watching the NFL.
But a sellout crowd of 13,917 poured into the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum to watch the first hockey game in the former home of the Islanders for the first time since April 2015, and the Isles treated this exhibition as if it had some sentimental emotions.
Fans lined the parking lot of the newly-renovated arena tailgating a good two to three hours leading up to faceoff.
"Didn't think energy was an issue," Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. "Pretty good pace to this game. I think probably the atmosphere had something to do with that.
"It was a great atmosphere. It was competitive all the way through. It's tough to lose in overtime. Performance wise and effort wise were good."
Islanders captain John Tavares ended the game just 34 seconds into overtime to give New York a 3-2 win over the Flyers with his second goal (see observations). Tavares beat Flyers goalie Leland Irving, who signed an AHL contract with the team last month.
Hakstol anticipated that tired legs would be an issue after two hard days to open training camp that included a lot of skating and some intense board battles during drills.
"They did what we asked," Hakstol said. "Go out and play to your strengths, play within themselves and do the things that they do best. Playing with poise and confidence and making plays."
Unlike Hakstol, who utilized a prospect-heavy group, Islanders head coach Doug Weight elected to use a more veteran-heavy presence in his lineup that included Tavares, newcomer Jordan Eberle, Josh Bailey, Anders Lee, Nick Leddy and former Flyer Dennis Seidenberg.
Irving took over for Alex Lyon in the third and faced a pair of point-blank opportunities in the opening minute from Tavares, who then won it in OT.
"Yeah, it's tough," Irving said with a laugh. "Tough going into the third. Sometimes those situations happen too, so you just have to be ready and prepare yourself for that situation.
"He obviously has some great finish. I knew who had the puck so it was just trying to be patient, follow him across, but he made a good shot right above the pad and below the blocker. When it goes post and in, you just tip your cap to him.
"You did what you had to do."
Hakstol couldn't have drawn up a better game situation to test the youth of his team after the Islanders erased a 2-0 deficit at the 14:37 mark of the third period.
"You could feel it in the legs today that you had two days of hard practices," defenseman Robert Hagg said. "At the same time you need to find a way to get around it, play a solid game and that's what I tried to focus on."
The natural Patrick
Playing in his first NHL game, second overall pick Nolan Patrick definitely didn't look out of place. There is a relative ease to his game, where he knows precisely where to be on the ice and exudes a calmness and confidence that rarely accompanies a rookie his age.
Patrick, who turns 19 on Tuesday, was teamed up on a line with Oskar Lindblom and Travis Konecny. That trio had not worked at all together prior to Sunday's preseason game.
"Yeah, he's a good player," Patrick said of Lindblom. "He protects the puck well. He's got a good shot. I think I'll be more of a pass-first guy, so I can find him as much as I can. Obviously, they had a pretty good lineup over there. I thought I played OK.
"I know I can still be better. Obviously, a little bit of nerves going into that first one."
It's just the first preseason game, but Sam Morin and Hagg may have gained some separation from the other defensive prospects by turning in steady performances. Coming off a rookie game where he played in big chunks of minutes, Travis Sanheim had a bad turnover trying to bank a pass off the boards behind the Flyers' net that led to an uncontested shot on Lyon, and Mathew Barzal blew past Sanheim in the right circle before scoring the game-tying goal.
Phillipe Myers had some minor miscues, but the one that led to Tavares' overtime-winner certainly stood out. Part of constructing the roster for Sunday's game was to see how the four main defensive prospects would play together and handle the pressure and tempo of an NHL game.
"We certainly wanted to have those young guys in this game," Hakstol said. "It probably won't be the last game that we see them in. We tried to get them all within their roles, and I thought, for the most part, there was a lot of positive performances there.
"Obviously, there's a lot of learning experiences there as well, but there were some good positives."
Who can wing it?
General manager Ron Hextall is a firm believer that playmaking centers with good hockey IQ can make the transition from center to wing. Two players were called upon to make that transition Sunday.
Jori Lehtera manned the left side with Mikhail Vorobyev in the middle, and rookie Mike Vecchione lined up at right wing for the first time in roughly five years after playing center in his four seasons at Union College, where he was a finalist for the Hobey Baker award as college hockey's top performers last season.
Vecchione didn’t back down from the challenge, showing a real toughness in battling for the puck along the boards.
“It’s a bit of an adjustment. I’d been working at it all week,” Vecchione said. “I played in high school and through junior and then I switched to center in college, where they needed me to play center. I have a fairly good background at right wing. It’s a little bit of a learning experience too. I’m just trying to adjust as best I can.”
Lehtera has played wing in international competition, but this will be the first time he’s played the position significantly on the smaller NHL ice where there’s more of a premium on winning individual board battles. Lehtera passed the first test with a shorthanded goal to go along with an assist.
“I played there in Olympics, World Cup and World Championships, so it’s not weird,” Lehtera said. ”I don’t think it matters if you have a good centerman it doesn’t matter if you’re a winger. It was a good first start.”