The puck giveth and the puck taketh away.
In their last nine-periods of play, the Islanders have just 6 goals, yet they have 90 shots on goal during that same timeframe. So, what gives? Well, Monday night at Nassau Coliseum the Isles accumulated just 23 shots on goal (a scant 11 through the first two periods) and 3 goals in their 3-2 victory over the Sabres in their third of eight matchups this season.
It’s not just enough to get shots on net, rather you need to get quality shots towards the net and even then there’s still no rhyme or reason for why some shots go in and others do not. (Sabermetrics attempt to answer this question, but there’s no real reason beyond luck.)
The opening few shifts of the first period saw the Islanders displaying the type of jump that would lead you to believe a big offensive night was instore for the team. Mathew Barzal, Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle in particular were buzzing on their first few shifts.
And then…the Boys from Long Island went into a funk. A curious funk at that. They continued to see plenty of time in Buffalo’s zone, yet, they failed to register a shot on goal for nearly the final 16-minutes of the first period. Perplexing indeed.
During the first few shifts for the Sabres, this game looked like a repeat of their 3-1 loss to the Islanders last Monday night; during which they were held without a shot on goal for the entire third period. However, after those first few shifts, the Sabres found their legs and started to shoot from anywhere and everywhere; getting 12 shots through to Semyon Varlamov by the end of the first period.
In fact, one of those shots found the back of the Isles’ net as Henri Jokiharu’s shot from the far point was deflected by Curtis Lazar and dipped past Varlamov with just 2:45 to go in the first period; thus putting the Sabres up 1-0.
Come on, you can’t tell me that wasn’t a lucky deflection.
So far this season, when leading after one, the Sabres were 2-0-0 and 3-0-1 when scoring first. On the flip side, the Nassaumen were 0-3-2 when trailing after one and 1-5-2 when letting their opponent score first.
In essence, none of this was a good sign for the Islanders as they headed to the second period down 1-0.
“We felt the frustration pick up a little bit,” said Anders Lee after the game. “When that happens, you have to find a way to stay positive
But then things started to change for the Isles in the middle period. They jumped from a three shot period to an eight shot period and they even scored on one of those shots.
3:56 into the second period, Captain Anders Lee went forehand-backhand down low on Linus Ullmark to tie the game at 1. But this goal was really the work of Mathew Barzal, who had a strong shift and used his speed to get behind Buffalo’s defense and kept the puck in the Isles’ possession until Ryan Pulock was able to send the puck down the slot from the point. It ping-ponged off Jordan Eberle and right to Lee who finished off the play. Again, lucky bounces.
And speaking of puck luck, J.G. Pageau definitely did not have it late in the second period when he broke in alone on Ullmark only to have the puck disobey him and go wide of the net on what would have been a highlight reel goal for the Islanders.
At the end of the second, with the game tied at 2, this was anyone’s game as the Isles and Sabres both have winning records when tied after two. The Isles were 4-2-2, while the Sabres were 2-0-1.
So it all came down to the final 20-minutes of play.
The Boys from Long Island drew first blood in the third period when Matt Martin capitalized on some positive puck luck 3:01 into the period and fired the loose puck from the top of the right face-off circle through traffic and past Ullmark to give the Nassaumen their first lead of the night. 2-1 Islanders.
The lead didn’t last though as Sam Reinhart displayed his own version of puck luck by batting the puck out of mid-air — like a baseball player — while the Sabres were on the power-play to knock the puck past Varlamov from in front of the net to once more tie the game: 2-2 at 5:48 of the third.
The teams traded chances after that, but nobody scored until the Isles got their own power-play opportunity late in the third period when Riley Sheahan tripped up Mathew Barzal.
With 1:43 of their power-play already gone, the isles cycled the puck around Buffalo’s zone until young Oliver Wahlstrom was able to rip a shot on goal from the left face-off circle. Ullmark was unable to control the rebound and it took a lucky bounce right to Pageau, who backhanded the puck past Ullmark’s glove for the go-ahead power-play goal: 3-2 Islanders with 4:52 to go.
“Wally has a great shot,” said Pageau after the game. “He was just trying to put it on net and I was able to get the rebound.”
Pageau added: “Things are bouncing my way right now so I have to keep going in the same direction.”
“I have an easy job — just rip them and win puck battles,” explained Wahlstrom after the game about how he sees his role on the power-play.
This game had a lot of lucky and unlucky bounces and with a 3-2 lead the Isles knew their work wasn’t done. They needed a little bit more puck luck to take the lead to the bank and Varlamov gave them just that with several fine saves as the clock ticked down to an Islanders victory.
Puck luck, it’s fun when you have it and terrifying when you don’t. The Isles experienced both feelings against the Sabres Monday night and will hope for more positive luck come Thursday night against Boston.
Head Coach Barry Trotz even acknowledged the luck aspect of the game during his post-game media availability: “(the) Hockey Gods were with (the Islanders).”
The Isles went 1-for-2 on the power-play to go to 11-for-45 on the season…The Isles went 2-for-3 on the penalty-kill…The Isles have won all three of their meetings against the Sabres so far this season…Anders Lee’s goal — his eighth of the season — leads all Islanders skaters this season…Mathew Barzal’s tripping penalty 52-seconds into the second period was his first penalty in eight games.
Thursday February 25th Islanders vs. Bruins at Nassau Coliseum at 7pm(EST).