After the Islanders’ win against Pittsburgh Saturday night, Head Coach Barry Trotz said his team was, “like a starving person needing food.” And even though they won the game, the Isles still weren’t where they wanted to be in the standings; thus, they remained “starving” heading into their Monday night matchup against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. The matchup with the Rangers also had the chance to be a historic one for Trotz and Co. as he was one win away from breaking a tie for third-place on the All-Time wins list for Head Coaches with Ken Hitchcock.
In order to win a hockey game you have to outscore your opponent, but the best offense is a good defense and that’s exactly what New York’s two teams brought Monday night in the Isles 2-0 victory over the Rangers in the third of eight meetings this season between the teams.
Prior to the game, Blueshirts’ Head Coach David Quinn actually praised the Islanders and their style of play, while admitting he was trying to implement some of those same qualities in his Rangers players. An unusual admission for an NHL Head Coach, especially one about to go up against his team’s hated rival.
However, it was also one of the most honest things Quinn could have said.
Now in his third-year behind the Islanders bench, Barry Trotz has well established his team’s identity as a tough to play against, defensively sound unit who fights for every single inch of ice and is more likely to win a game 2-1 than to win 6-5. And that style has served the Boys from Long Island well as they’ve twice made deep playoff runs under Trotz’s guidance.
So, it’s no wonder Quinn and the Rangers wanted to emulate some of that style as they sought the same type of success. Quinn just doesn’t have the type of players, like the Isles’ Matt Martin-Casey Cizikas-Cal Clutterbuck line, to implement such a strategy. That would be key in determining Monday night’s victor.
The first period opened with sticks in the right places for both teams as there weren’t a lot of chances for either side. In fact, per the Natural Stat Trick website, there were just two high-danger chances during the entirety of the period. And during the first nine-plus minutes of the period, the Shots on Goal counter was just 5-2 in favor of the Rangers.
That obviously increased as the period went along, but the few shots that did get through to Semyon Varlamov were swiftly turned aside as the Nassaumen’s goalie was seeing the puck clearly. On an individual note, Varlamov was also positioned to make some history of his own as no Islanders goalie had ever shutout the Rangers twice in the same season. His first was against the Rangers on Opening Night.
Could he get shutout number two?
At the end of one, the Shots on Goal tally for both teams was 9-7 in favor of the Rangers; once more proving just how tight the defense was on both sides of the ice.
The second period was a bit more open on the ice as the Blueshirts found some more seams in the Isles’ zone, but once again Varlamov was the story as he held his position well and continued to turn aside every puck sent his way. 10 shots got through to Varlamov during the period and each and every one was stopped by the Isles’ netminder.
Unfortunately, none of the 14 Islanders shots on goal during the period got past Igor Shesterkin, so, to the third period the teams went, tied 0-0.
As the game progressed, things started to open up at times for both teams and the third period started fast and furious as Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad both obtained Grade-A scoring chances in the opening minutes. But Varlamov turned them both away empty-handed. Panarin’s was a breakaway that saw Varlamov glove the Breadman’s low, glove-side shot with ease. Meanwhile, Zibanejad’s chance was off an odd-man rush and ended with Varlamov closing the wickets just in time to prevent the home team from scoring.
“When you face these shots against the biggest players in the league and you make the save, of course, it gives you a boost during the game,” said Varlamov after the game. “You want to make that save. I thought that was a key save in this game, we needed those.”
Eventually, the Boys from Long Island turned to the one line they had the Rangers couldn’t match and that’s their “Energy” or “Identity” Line of Martin-Cizikas-Clutterbuck.
With 11:15 gone in the third period and the Isles’ fourth-line buzzing around the Rangers’ zone, Blueshirts’ defenseman, Libor Hajek haphazardly sent the puck towards the middle of the ice and it was picked off by Adam pelech. Pelech fired the puck towards Shesterkin and Cizikas deflected it to cause a goalmouth scramble.
Cizikas found the puck through the maze of skates and backhanded it past Shesterkin’s left pad for the 1-0 Islanders lead.
“We’re playing well right now and we’re doing our jobs,” said Cizikas after the game. “We’re playing hard and giving it everything we have. The way that every line goes out there and plays the way their strengths work for them, that’s something we build off of.”
To which Clutterbuck added: “We’ve been having a little bit of tough luck with pucks going in on us. Obviously it doesn’t sit well with us, not at all. So it’s nice to have a couple go our way, especially in a big game.”
2:05 later, the Boys from Long Island once again had their fourth-line on the ice and once more magic was created.
Mathew Barzal dumped the puck into the Rangers zone before getting off the ice and Clutterbuck chased it down along the near boards. From below the goal-line Clutterbuck sent a pass to the front of the net where Martin just tapped it under Shesterkin’s right pad for the Isles’ second goal of the game.
The Nassaumen had scored two-goals in 2:05 and with just 6:40 to go in regulation the only real question was whether or not Varlamov could complete his historic shutout?
“I thought they played really well tonight,” said Trotz in regards to his fourth-line. “I thought they had as complete a game (as they’ve had) in a while.”
Fear not Islanders fans, history was made and in more ways than one.
Varlamov finished off the 30-save shutout for the win, which also happened to be the 850th of Barry Trotz’s career; good enough for third-place on the All-Time wins list.
After the game, Trotz was asked about such a momentous accomplishment, to which he showcased his classic demeanor by saying, “We’re on to Pittsburgh.”
And evidently that classic demeanor has rubbed off on his goalie too as Varlamov addressed his own achievement after the game: “I don’t want to sit here and talk about these last two games against the Rangers. It’s a long season and a lot of games are coming. In our last four games, we’ve been collecting points and that’s all that matters at this point.”
All in all, a good night to be the Islanders.
Semyon Varlamov became the first Islanders goaltender to shutout the Rangers twice in the same season…Barry Trotz recorded his 850th career win, breaking a tie with Ken Hitchcock for third-place all-time on the career wins list…The Isles went 3-for-3 on the penalty-kill and 0-for-1 on the power-play…The Islanders continued power-play woes dropped them to 6-for-33 on the season.
Thursday February 11th Islanders vs. Penguins at Nassau Coliseum at 7pm(EST).