photo credit: AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes
New York Islanders hockey, once again, folks. Strong defense, gritty style, and leaving the arena with two points. After a monumental team victory on Saturday night, Barry Trotz and his crew knew exactly what was heating up. The once hapless Islanders are now sitting in a playoff spot and carrying a seven-game point streak in the process. New York continues to have the momentum and wear down opponents and score a healthy amount of goals in the process. To be exact, the once struggling Isles power-play units have now scored in three straight games. Wasn’t this the team that couldn’t score goals and needed a big fish free agent these past two off-seasons? Well, not right now. In the Islanders’ last five games, they have outscored opponents 16-10. The margin isn’t crazy; however, they have faced off against opponents with lethal offenses, like the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins. The Sabres are no slouches either, carrying an offense containing Jack Eichel, Taylor Hall, Victor Oloffson, and (when healthy) Dylan Cozens. The Isles defense and Semyon Varlamov have been exceptional in this recent stretch of play.
I am not saying that I would not like to see some more young guys get a chance or add some more scoring to this lineup because I would. However, the team is clicking right now, and as time goes on, Isles general manager Lou Lamoriello will search for the right guys to add to this team at the trade deadline or in the off-season. More talent always helps, but the Islanders are winning with exactly what they have right now.
The bottom line: The Isles did not need to land big-time free agents to have success.
From puck drop in Buffalo, this was New York’s game. The Sabres hadn’t played a game in fifteen days. The Isles came off of an electric team win against the big bad Boston Bruins. Despite getting outshot 12-8 in the first period, the Islanders went to their dressing room with a lead after the first twenty minutes of hockey. 16:37 into the first, Isles captain Anders Lee scored his fifth goal of the season on a gorgeous deflection. Josh Bailey and Mathew Barzal were credited with assists. Barzal is now riding a nine-game point streak. Less than two minutes later, Jean-Gabriel Pageau continued his hot streak and netted his fifth goal of the season, with Nick Leddy and Scott Mayfield notching assists. The Islanders were in a good place heading into the second and looked to build off of what they started.
However, just twenty-eight seconds into the second frame, Adam Pelech went to the penalty box for tripping Sabres winger Jeff Skinner. Buffalo moved the puck beautifully, and 1:12 into the power-play, they capitalized. Victor Olofsson scored his fifth of the year on assists from Rasmus Dahlin and Sam Reinhart. The second period was evenly matched, but the Isles locked it down defensively and gave the Sabres nothing. Shots for the period were tied at 9. 8:09 into the second; former Islander Brandon Davidson went to the box for holding Casey Cizikas. 1:40 into the power-play, Brock Nelson deflected one home. Josh Bailey tallied his second assist of the game and fourth on the year, and Oliver Wahlstrom picked up his first career assist.
The Islanders played the epitome of Islander hockey in the third period. In fact, the Sabres did not have a single shot in the period for the first time since 2011. This is the first time in Isles history that they did not give up a single shot on goal in a period. New York outshot Buffalo 29-21 in sixty minutes and outhit them 17-15. Both teams went 1/2 on the power-play. The final score was New York 3, Buffalo 1.
As previously noted, Barzal is on a nine-game point streak and has 6 goals, 8 assists, and 14 points in 13 games this season; in this time, he is a +3. Varlamov was lights out and improves to 7-2-2 on the year, with an impressive .931 save percentage and 1.89 goals-against average. The Isles have stuck to their structure, found their game, and are looking like a complete force. There is no team in the National Hockey League the Islanders cannot beat with all hands on deck. Again, they must take advantage of a depleted Sabres roster on Tuesday and grow the point streak to eight.
The stretch ahead is not easy. The men in blue and orange will see the Sabres, Penguins, and Bruins in their next five games. Their odds are great if they play their game and stick to the Islander structure and way.
Islanders (7-4-3) vs. Sabres (4-5-2) will happen again on Tuesday night in Buffalo, with puck drop scheduled for 7:00 PM Eastern Time.