PHILADELPHIA — Bo Horvat had a new look in his first game with his new team. Yes, of course, the Islanders jersey took some getting used to — Horvat said he was “really nervous” ahead of his debut — but so did New York’s ban on facial hair.
So he made sure to pack his gear — and his razor. Horvat had to say goodbye to his scruff.
“My face looks like a little boy right now,” he said.
The Islanders just hope he continues to look like an All-Star.
Kyle Palmieri and Mathew Barzal scored for the Islanders in their first game since they acquired Horvat in a trade, leading them to a 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday night.
Horvat made his debut a day after the Islanders signed the center to an eight-year contract worth $68 million. The 27-year-old Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division on Saturday. Horvat had already tied his career high with 31 goals this season in 49 games with Vancouver.
“The guys made me feel really comfortable and they were great,” Horvat said. “It feels even better to get that win and get my legs under me.”
Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello, a three-time Stanley Cup winner leading the New Jersey Devils, has long carried with him a no-facial hair policy. Somewhere in between Vancouver, South Florida for the All-Star game and Philadelphia, Horvat made sure he complied.
Coach Lane Lambert said Horvat can only help as the Islanders make a playoff push in a crowded bottom half of the Eastern Conference. The Islanders now have 57 points and matched the idle Pittsburgh Penguins for eighth in the East.
“In terms of how it changes moving forward, it gives us more options,” Lambert said. “We know what we have to do as a group. We’ve got to string together some wins. That’s the focus right now.”
Horvat was a nonfactor in New York’s goals. Palmieri scored his seventh on a wrist shot in the first that snapped the Islanders’ 0-for-26 power-play drought. Barzal beat Carter Hart for his 13th goal and a 2-0 lead in the second.
Noah Dobson earned his 18th assist on Barzal’s goal and collected his 100th career point. He expected Horvat to make an immediate impact.
“Obviously the caliber of player and person he is going to fit in well with this locker room,” Dobson said.
Semyon Varlamov stopped 25 shots for the Islanders.
Nicolas Deslauriers scored his third goal for the Flyers.
The Flyers are out of the playoff picture but, perhaps even worse to some fans, are falling out of the race to earn the No. 1 pick and a shot at drafting a projected generational talent in Connor Bedard.
The Flyers won seven of eight games after Christmas and tacked on another three-game winning streak later in January to earn some needed confidence in coach John Tortorella’s first season.
There is a no-tank ethos in the no-nonsense Tortorella.
“I think there’s a right type of camaraderie going on with this club right now,” Tortorella said. “I thought we played our best month of hockey in January. I think it builds the belief. Belief is a very powerful thing if you get it to go from one guy to another and then you get it to a group. I’m hoping that’s the way they feel.”
The Flyers released a letter Monday that was signed by Tortorella and sent to season-ticket holders. His mission statement: to effectively let fans know the path toward a Stanley Cup could take some time. Then again, Flyers fans are used to waiting. The franchise has only won Stanley Cups in 1974 and 1975.
“I’m not going to lie to you — and I want to be clear about this — we’re not there yet,” Tortorella wrote. “This year was the first step in building the future of the Flyers and restoring our reputation as one of the most respected teams in hockey. We’re in the thick of the season right now, and we’re going to see how our group responds to the challenges that lay ahead with a grueling schedule.”
Horvat will make his home debut Tuesday, when the Islanders meet the Seattle Kraken. The veteran said he’ll “probably have the same amount of nerves and butterflies playing in front of the home crowd for the first time.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.