Say it loud and say it proud Islanders fans: IT’S. ABOUT. TIME!
Saturday night against the Penguins at Nassau Coliseum, for the first time since beating the Devils 4-1 in Newark on Thursday January 21st, the Islanders put one in the “WIN” Column. Their 4-3 victory over Pittsburgh was their first in six-games and couldn’t have come at a better time for Barry Trotz’s team.
After starting the season 3-1-0, the Isles proceeded to go 0-3-2 over their next five-games before being the victims of circumstance as their two scheduled games against Buffalo this past week were postponed due to the Sabres’ COVID problems.
So, the Boys from Long Island had a previously unplanned five days between games at a time when perhaps that was all the team needed to get its head straight. Normally, a hockey team would loath to have such an extended break between games. But with their skid being equal parts a physical and mental drain, it may have come at just the right time.
“Through that trip, obviously it didn’t go that well,” said Anders Lee after the game. “We just took this week to take a step back and work on our game and rest up.”
The first period began slowly, not an uncommon occurrence these days, but after a few minutes the pace picked up and it was the Nassaumen who capitalized first.
A strong shift by the Isles’ fourth-line of Matt Martin-Casey Cizikas-Cal Clutterbuck, hemmed the Penguins in their own zone, nearly cashing in on multiple scoring opportunities before giving way to the newly formed second-line of Michael Dal Colle-Brock Nelson-Jordan Eberle.
Nelson fought for the puck along the boards before getting the puck over to Dal Colle, who spied Eberle streaking down the middle of the ice. Dal Colle’s pass hit Eberle in stride as he blew past defenseman Cody Ceci and roofed a lethal backhand shot over Tristian Jarry’s blocker for the 1-0 Islanders lead at 10:22 of the first period.
“Thought we played a pretty solid game,” said Dal Colle after the game. “For me, super easy guys to play with… I thought we made some pretty nice plays offensively.”
It wasn’t long before the Penguins responded though. Just 3:21 after Eberle’s goal, Pierre-Olivier Joseph scored his first career NHL goal on a wrist-shot from the left face-off dot off a pass from Jake Guentzel to tie the game at 1. P.O. Joseph was left uncovered and once he picked his spot he did not miss.
The Kid didn’t get to enjoy it for long though as the Islanders came back just 2:02 later to retake the lead on yet another Jordan Eberle goal.
Dal Colle fought for and won the puck from a pair of Penguins and got the puck over to Nelson in the slot, who fired a shot on goal while falling down. Jarry made the initial save, but didn’t control the rebound. Eberle, who was parked just to the left of Jarry, saw the loose puck and promptly deposited it past the Pittsburgh goalie’s left pad for the 2-1 Islanders lead.
After the game, Lee said this about Dal Colle’s impressive game: “He was hopping on pucks, strong on them, strong on bodies. He played with that energy and he created those goals… Really lit that fire for our team when we needed that jump.”
Jordan Eberle added: “He played really well. He’s a big body, he wins a lot of puck battles and makes a lot of little plays. Look at that first goal, that’s a skill play… he looked great tonight.”
That was it for the scoring in the first period and things were looking good for the home team.
Then the second period came and it was all Penguins to start. If not for the stellar goaltending of Semyon Varlamov, who was playing in his 500th career NHL game, the visitors would have taken over the lead in no time flat.
Thankfully, Varlamov was up to the task, making sterling save after sterling save — 13 in total for the period; although I’m slightly skeptical the NHL’s shot counter was working accurately during the period as it seemed like far more.
The Islanders’ problem throughout the period was their uncharacteristic sloppiness in their own zone that had been mostly erased during the Barry Trotz-era. Too often during the middle period defensemen missed assignments, forwards coughed up the puck and Varlamov was left to fend for himself.
However, through 19 minutes, that didn’t matter as Varlamov kept the Penguins off the board and out of his net.
Until he didn’t.
With just under 16 seconds remaining in the period, Scott Mayfield didn’t put enough oomph on his clearing attempt and compounded the issue by vacating his spot; thus leaving Evegeni Malkin wide open from the left hash marks. And while Malkin hasn’t been his usual dominating self this season, he’s just too good to miss from there. And he didn’t; his wrist shot up and over Varlamov’s glove tied the game at 2, sending the home team to the locker room feeling deflated rather than elated.
That was a problem to start the third period as Pittsburgh came out buzzing, while the Islanders came out looking hungover.
Just 3:19 into the third Jake Guentzel scored on a wrist-shot inside the near post to give the visitors their first lead of the evening. It was a cumulation of several dominating shifts in a row for Pittsburgh and it served to further deflate the Islanders. And for a few moments it looked like the Penguins would increase their lead from 3-2 to 4-2 or even 5-2. However, Varlamov put the team on his back and kept Pittsburgh off the board the rest of the way.
The comeback started 5:04 later as Casey Cizikas fought for and won the puck behind Pittsburgh’s net and sent a pass to the front of the net where Cal Clutterbuck was waiting and Clutterbuck backhanded it past Jarry to tie the game at 3.
All of a sudden the Boys from Long Island had some life breathed into them and it was a far more even game beyond just the score.
Just under nine minutes after Clutterbucks’ goal, the Penguins committed a delay of game penalty to give the Islanders the only power-play of the game.
Coming into the game, New York’s power-play was 5-for-31 on the season. Boy what they wouldn’t give to be 6-for-32. Well…
That’s exactly what they did!
At 17:16 of the third period, almost halfway into their power-play, during which they had maintained control of the puck and Pittsburgh’s zone, Ryan Pulock fired a shot through Jarry and Anders Lee did what he does best; clean up the rebound in the crease for the 4-3 Islanders lead with just 2:44 to go in the game.
And 2:44 later, the Islanders had their first win in six-games and not a moment too soon. Next up, the Rangers on Monday night.
Varlamov said it best after the game: “we needed that one.”
Semyon Varlamov played in his 500th career NHL game against the Penguins: “It’s a pretty big achievement for me and my family. I want to say thank you to all the coaches and all the staff and trainers who have been apart of those 500 games”….Anders Lee had the game-winning goal…Jordan Eberle scored twice: “I have the puck on my stick a little bit more (playing with Nelson)… heads up play by MDC”…Noah Dobson recorded an assist on Eberle’s first goal of the game to give him six-points on the season…The islanders went 1-for-1 on the power-play to improve to 6-for-32 on the season.
Monday February 8th Islanders at Rangers at Madison Square Garden at 7pm(EST).