It’s not how you start, but rather, how you finish.
It sounds cliche (and it is), but more importantly, it’s true.
Monday night, the first NHL game in 16 days was played inside Buffalo’s KeyBank Center — the Sabres were heavily affected by COVID 19 — as the Islanders beat the Sabres 3-1 to extend their points streak to seven straight games; during which, they tout a record of 4-0-3.
“You’ve got to approach it just like any other game,” said Matt Martin before the game. “Play the same way we have over the last six games. They’re a good hockey team. Whatever their circumstances are right now, that’s, fortunately, not our concern.”
Out of the box the Boys from Long Island looked like they were the ones who hadn’t played a game in 15 days as the Sabres had the better scoring chances, more shots and crisper passes. Oh and the Sabres played better defense too as their sticks were constantly in the way of the Isles’ passes.
But again, it’s how you finish, not how you start and the turning point for the Islanders was Semyon Varlamov’s glove save (assisted by the post) on Victor Olofsson’s one-timer on the off-angle from the right side. And after that, the Nassaumen seemed to find something in their game that was absent prior to Varlamov’s big save.
From there the Isles started to really put the pressure on Linus Ullmark and the Sabres and it wasn’t long before the visitors had their first goal.
And, of course, the play was started (and finished) by the Isles top-line. Mathew Barzal made a nice defensive play along the boards to keep the puck in Buffalo’s zone. Barzal passed the puck to Josh Bailey in the slot and Bailey found a streaking Anders Lee down low for the easy tap-in goal as the Isles’ captain was cutting across the top of the crease. 1-0 Islanders at 16:37 of the first period.
That wasn’t all for the Isles though as their sudden turnaround in play saw their momentum continue to build and cumulated in yet another goal for the red-hot J.G. Pageau, who has now scored goals in three-straight games.
Of course, Pageau wouldn’t have gotten the chance to score his goal if not for Scott Mayfield’s stout defensive play in the Isles’ zone that preceded the scoring chance.
So, immediately after Mayfield’s play and 1:44 after Lee’s goal, Nick Leddy carried the puck out of his own zone and got it over to Pageau along the near board in the neutral zone. Pageau carried it down the right side and fired an innocent looking shot on goal that Ullmark misplayed for the 2-0 Isles lead.
Pageau’s wrist-shot while cutting through the right face-off circle appeared to catch Ullmark by surprise as the puck went over his left shoulder and perhaps provided an argument for why goalies shouldn’t drop down so quickly. But that’s an argument for another day.
The Isles were outshot 12-8 in the first period, but their finish to the period rendered that a moot point as they led 2-0 after 20 minutes of play.
The second period saw the Boys from Long Island continue to build momentum for themselves, but not without a little hiccup at the 1:40 mark of the period.
An early tripping penalty against Adam Pelech put the Isles on the penalty-kill just 28-seconds into the middle period and it didn’t take the Sabres long to pick up where they left off before their COVID pause as they netted their 13th power-play goal of the season courtesy of Victor Olofsson’s one-timer from the right face-off circle that finally beat Varlamov after being stopped the period prior.
The score now read 2-1 Islanders, however, Barry Trotz’s men seemed unfazed and rather determined to get the goal back.
And in true “Islanders Way” fashion, the visitors went out and responded with a power-play goal of their own.
8:09 after Olofsson’s goal, Brock Nelson netted his own power-play goal (his third of the season) when he redirected Josh Bailey’s pass past Ullmark to restore the Isles’ two-goal lead. On the play, Oliver Wahlstrom made a heady play to get the puck over to Bailey from the near boards and Bailey carried into the slot before finessing the pass through the seam so Nelson could backdoor the puck into Buffalo’s net. 3-1 Islanders. (Wahlstrom received the secondary assist on the play, which marks the first assist of his NHL career).
The Boys from Long Island continued to push the pace for the rest of the second period but the only “True” scoring chance either team had was when the Sabres’ Sam Reinhart fired a one-timer from the left face-off circle on goal. However, Varlamov used his excellent side-to-side quickness to get over and still keep his pads closed in order to deny Buffalo’s chance to cut into the Islanders’ lead.
To the third period the teams went as the Nassaumen looked to protect their 3-1 lead and they did just that as they held Buffalo without a shot on goal for the entire period; something that hadn’t happened to the Sabres since 2011.
For those familiar with the Islanders, their stout third period defense should be of no surprise as they’d allowed only five goals in the third period through their first 13 games of the season heading into this game in Buffalo. But this was just another level of defense for the Islanders. In fact, it was historic as it was the first time in Isles’ history they’d held an opponent to zero shots on goal for an entire period of play. (Thank you Eric Hornick for your stats’ expertise on this one).
Perhaps some of it was the fact the Sabres looked gassed after having not played in 15 days, however, there was no denying the Islanders’ ability to lock things down when they needed to.
The Isles and Sabres will reconvene tomorrow (Tuesday) night for the second-half of their back-to-back set.
Mathew Barzal’s first period assist on Anders Lee’s goal extended his career-high points streak to nine-straight games…Oliver Wahlstrom’s assist on Brock Nelson’s power-play goal was his first career NHL assist…J.G. Pageau’s goal extended his goal-streak to three-straight games…The Islanders went 1-for-2 on the power-play to improve to 9-for-37 on the season and have now scored a power-play goal in four of their last five games…The Islanders have recorded at least a point in seven-straight games.
Tuesday February 16th Islanders at Sabres at KeyBank Center at 7pm(EST).