The Islanders host the New Jersey Devils at the Nassau Coliseum Friday afternoon. If the Islanders lose, they will be winless in 15 games, tying a franchise record for futility set back in their expansion season of 1972-73. Here is a look back at that spectacular winless streak from the Isles inaugural season:
November 21, 1972: The Islanders beat the California Golden Seals 4-2 at the Nassau Coliseum for the third win in the club’s short history. Ed Westfall and Brian Lavender each had a goal and an assist for the Isles who overcame a 2-0 first period deficit. Their record for the season improves to 3-13-1.
Game #1: November 22, 1972: Flyers 5, Islanders 3 (0-1-0). Despite being outshot 41-18 after two periods, the Islanders led 3-1 with Lorne Henning’s two goals leading the way for the Isles. The Flyers scored four unanswered goals in the third period to ice the win. Billy Smith made 55 saves in a losing cause.
Game #2: November 25, 1972: Penguins 2, Islanders 2 (0-1-1). Greg Polis scored twice for the Penguins in the first period but the Isles tied the game on power play goals by Germain Gagnon and Ron Stewart. Dave Hudson assisted on both Isles goals at the Igloo.
Game #3: November 26, 1972: Sabres 9, Islanders 2 (0-2-1). The Isles led 1-0 after 20 minutes on a goal by Gagnon before the Sabres “French Connection Line” of Gilbert Perreault, Richard Martin and Rene Robert decimated the Isles. Martin led the way with two goals and a pair of assists. The Islanders were outshot 50-16 including 21-4 in the third period. Gerry Desjardins was left in the Islander net for the entire game.
Game #4: November29, 1972: Sabres 7, Islanders 2 (0-3-1). The Sabres completed a sweep of the home and home with the Islanders with a 7-2 win at the Nassau Coliseum. Perreault scored twice and added an assist for Buffalo. Don Blackburn and Dave Hudson scored for the Islanders who were outscored 16-4 over two games against Buffalo.
Game #5: December 2, 1972: Red Wings 4, Islanders 1 (0-4-1). Detroit’s Marcel Dionne had a goal and three assists as the Wings downed the Isles before 11,476 at the Nassau Coliseum. Detroit outshot the Islanders 40-18. Gerry Desjardins kept the Isles in the game and they only trailed 2-1 after 40 minutes but a fluke goal by the Red Wings helped put the game away. Dionne sent the puck into the New York zone and Desjardins went behind the net to get it. Instead, the puck took a strange bounce off the boards and came right in front of the goal where Len Fontaine put it into the empty net. Tom Miller scored the Islander goal. Isles top pick Billy Harris had now gone 16 straight games without scoring.
Game #6: December 3, 1972: Bruins 5, Islanders 1 (0-5-1). The defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins had an easy time of it with the Isles. The home team spent nearly the entire game in the Islanders zone, so much so that Murray Chass of the New York Times said Isles goalie Billy Smith “easily could have qualified for combat pay and a purple heart, or at least a week’s rest at Grossinger’s.” Smith made38 saves. Lorne Henning scored for the Islanders; Bobby Orr had a pair of assists for Boston. The Bruins were unbeaten in nine games while the Isles were now winless in six.
Game #7: December 5, 1972: Kings 6, Islanders 1 (0-6-1). The good news: Billy Harris scored to end his 17 game drought. Unfortunately, the Isles allowed five breakaway goals to the Kings in a 6-1 loss. Bob Berry scored twice and set an unusual NHL record by scoring on four straight shots on goal—over three games. Butch Goring had three assists for the Kings. The Isles didn’t get a shot on goal for the first 12 ½ minutes of the second period and managed only 16 shots for the game. Kings center Juha Widing refused to feel bad for his expansion opponents. “I don’t feel sorry for the Islanders,” Widing said. “I remember what it used to be like for us.”
Game #8: December 9, 1972: Rangers 4, Islanders 1 (0-7-1). The game was tired 1-1 after the Rangers Rod Seiling and the Islanders Brian Lavender traded first period goals, but the Rangers blew it open with three goals in a span of 2:05 late in the second period. Ed Giacomin made 19 saves for the Rangers while Billy Fairbairn scored twice. Isles defenseman Arnie Brown was injured in the game, leaving the Isles with no experienced NHL defensemen on their active roster.
Game #9: December 10, 1972: Rangers 4, Islanders 1 (0-8-1). For the second straight night, the Rangers downed the Isles 4-1, this time at Madison Square Garden. Seldom used third string goalie Peter McDuffe made 25 saves to earn his first NHL victory. Billy Harris gave the Isles a 1-0 lead but it lasted all of 2:01 before Fairbairn tied it for the Rangers. Vic Hadfield, Walt Tkaczuk and Ron Harris scored in the second period as the Rangers coasted to victory.
Game #10: December 12, 1972: Blues 4, Islanders 4 (0-8-2). The four goals were the highest total for the Isles since their last win 10 games ago but they still settled for a 4-4 tie against the Blues at the Coliseum. Billy Smith made 38 saves on his 22nd birthday for the Isles. St. Louis held a 3-1 lead before Germain Gagnon and Dave Hudson evened things up for the home team. Craig Cameron’s third goal of the year gave the Isles a lead early in the third period, but Fran Huck beat Smith for the tying goal with 9:42 left in the game.
Game #11: December 13, 1972: Penguins 9, Islanders 1 (0-9-2). The Penguins took 55 shots on goal against Gerry Desjardins and coasted to a 9-1 win over the visiting Islanders at the Igloo in Pittsburgh. Syl Apps, Jr. set a Pens record with six points on the night, a hat trick and three assists while winger Lowell MacDonald scored twice. Don Blackburn scored the only Isles goal of the night with just four seconds left in the game, spoiling Denis Herron’s shutout bid.
Game #12: December 16, 1972: Flyers 2, Islanders 1 (0-10-2). The Flyers prevailed in a fight filled game 2-1 at the Nassau Coliseum. Dave Schultz and Brian “Spinner” Spencer went toe-to-toe twice. Gerry Hart returned to the Isles lineup which helped bolster the defense, but veteran forward Ron Stewart dislocated a shoulder and was expected to miss the next two weeks. Bobby Clarke and Bob Kelly scored in the second period for the Flyers. Germain Gagnon scored the lone Isles goal with 31 seconds left in the game to spoil Flyers goalie Michel Belhumeur’s bid for a perfect evening.
Game #13: December 17, 1972: Flames 4, Islanders 0 (0-11-2). The Islanders figured to have a chance when playing their fellow expansion brethren from Atlanta, but Phil Myre made 20 saves to shutout the Isles and extend the slump to 13 games. Defenseman Bob Paradise led the Flames attack with a goal and an assist. Curt Bennett, Rey Comeau and Bob Leiter also scored for Atlanta.
Game #14: December 20, 1972: Canadiens 4, Islanders 2 (0-12-2). Guy Lapointe had three assists while Jacques Lemaire set up two goals as the Canadiens downed the Islanders 4-2 in Montreal. Lorne Henning and Arnie Brown scored for the Isles while Guy Lafleur, Claude Larose, Chuck Lefley and Yvan Cournoyer tallied for the Habs. This game was considered a moral victory for the Isles who played a tight road game against the eventual Stanley Cup champions.
Game #15: December 21, 1972: Canucks 4, Islanders 4 (0-12-3). Brian Spencer scored the tying goal with 9:21 left in the game as the Isles tied the visiting Vancouver Canucks before 9,461 at the Nassau Coliseum. Ed Westfall had a hand in all four goals for the home team, scoring once and adding three assists. The tying goal took place when the puck deflected off Spencer who was lying on top of Vancouver goalie Dunc Wilson. The goal counted when referee Dave Newell ruled Spencer had been pushed into Wilson.
The end of the drought: December 23, 1972: Islanders 4, North Stars 2. The Islanders gave their fans an early Christmas present with their first win in more than a month, a 4-2 victory over the visiting Minnesota North Stars. Brian Spencer scored the game winner on a breakaway and Terry Crisp sealed the win with an empty net goal with just eight seconds left. J.P. Parise scored twice for the North Stars.
During the 15 game winless streak, the Isles were outscored 73-26 and their overall record fell to 3-25-4.
After beating the North Stars, the Isles headed to the West Coast for a road trip and proceeded to lose their next 12 games in a row, but such was the life of an expansion team in a time before the salary cap and free agency.
The Isles set what was then an NHL record for futility, finishing their first season with a 12-60-6 record. But all was not hopeless. Having the worst record gave the Isles the top pick in the draft the following year and they selected future Hall of Fame defenseman Denis Potvin. By 1975, the Isles reached Game 7 of the Semi-Finals and by 1980, GM Bill Torrey had built a team that won its first of four straight Stanley Cups.