NHL players — and athletes in general — are creatures of habit. Routines are very important as players try to get themselves ready to play in their team’s games. So, when you have an odd start time, for example, a 1pm(EST) start, instead of a normal 7pm(EST) start, it throws players’ bodies and routines out of whack. It probably seems trivial to those of you who have never played organized sports, but it is significant.
Saturday afternoon at Nassau Coliseum, the Islanders came out sluggish in the first period but then rode a four-goal second period to a 5-2 victory over the Sabres in the first game of a weekend back-to-back set and the second of three straight meetings between these teams.
However, somebody forgot to tell the Islanders that Saturday’s game started at 1pm(EST). Just 33-seconds into the game, on the first shift of the game, Sabres’ rookie defenseman, Jacob Bryson released a fairly innocent wrist-shot from along the left-wing wall and the puck darted past Semyon Varlamov’s glove for an easy 1-0 Buffalo lead.
Congratulations to the kid on his first career goal, however it wasn’t how the Islanders envisioned the game starting. And things didn’t really improve for the Nassaumen as the first period progressed; at least, not at first. It took until roughly half the period was over for the Isles to find their legs and to start skating in a manner in which we’ve become accustomed to seeing.
There weren’t many quality scoring chances though as the Boys from Long Island were mainly kept out of the high-danger areas by Buffalo’s skaters. So, even though the Islanders outshot the Sabres 11-7 for the period, it was by no means a quality period for the home team.
Then things changed in the second period. And it all started with the sparkplug himself, Mathew Barzal.
Just 3:51 into the second period, Barzal said enough’s enough and took matters into his own hands by inserting himself yet again into the Goal-of-the-Year debate. Or rather, it was a debate, until Barzal locked up the award with a between the legs goal that beat Carter Hutton to tie the game at 1.
The loose puck was skittering through the neutral zone towards Buffalo’s end when Barzal caught up to it and out-muscled Rasmus Ristolainen for control of the little rubber biscuit. Barzal drove right to left on Hutton and reached back between his legs to beat Hutton glove-side.
Barzal’s teammates, as well as the MSG Networks broadcast crew, had hardly finished exclaiming about his goal when Brock Nelson reminded everybody there’s more than one way to score a goal. Just 1:25 after Barzal’s tally, Nelson flew down the slot, received Anthony Beauvillier’s pass and wired the puck over Hutton’s glove-side to give the Nassaumen a 2-1 lead.
Not to be outdone, but 3:29 after Nelson’s goal, Cal Clutterbuck got in on the action when he parked himself near the top of the crease and buried a shot that beat Hutton blocker side for the 3-1 Islanders lead.
It all started with some good forechecking by the Isles’ Identity Line and eventually, Matt Martin found Clutterbuck parked in front, who promptly made sure to keep the Islanders’ momentum going with the team’s third goal of the period.
By this point, a quick glance at the Sabres’ bench told you all you needed to know about Buffalo’s players; they were demoralized and knew they were toast. However, a 3-1 second period lead is not something to take for granted, so the Islanders kept skating and 6:44 after Clutterbuck’s marker, Scott Mayfield decided to get in on the fun.
J.G. Pageau and Michael Dal Colle won the battle for the puck along the boards and got the puck over to Casey Cizikas down low. Cizikas caught sight of Mayfield streaking down the right side and placed a perfect pass to the Isles’ defenseman. Mayfield received the pass in stride and fired a blast top-shelf to put the Boys from Long Island up 4-1 at the 15:29 mark of the second period.
That was enough damage for the second period; which is normally a weak spot for the Islanders. So the teams went to the third period with the Isles leading 4-1. Oh and did I mention, during their four-goal second period, the Nassaumen only registered nine shots on goal. That’s quite a nice shooting percentage; but I digress.
Buffalo opened the third with a renewed sense of life and just 52-seconds into the period, seconds after their carry-over power-play had expired — Scott Mayfield had been sent to the box with 1:15 left in the second period for interfering with Jeff Skinner — Sam Reinhart tipped Rasmus Dahlin’s shot past Varlamov to cut the Islanders’ lead to 4-2.
Who knows, perhaps, if the Sabres would have kept up that pace, maybe they would have managed to pull even closer. However, a mere 1:23 after Reinhart’s goal, Isles’ Captain, Anders Lee went hard to the net and after his first chance was stopped by Hutton, his second chance poke went through Buffalo’s netminder for the dagger goal to extend the Nassaumen’s lead to 5-2.
Noah Dobson had fired a pass to Lee, who was parked in his office atop the crease. Lee’s first tap in try was stopped by Hutton but the puck sat there in the crease and Lee poked at it again to push it through for his team-leading 11th goal of the season.
That was it for the scoring as not much else happened between Lee’s goal at 2:15 and the final horn 17:45 later. Buffalo was clearly dejected after Lee’s goal and the Islanders just sat on their lead after that. For the game, the Islanders outshot the Sabres 29-22 and the third period was the only one in which the Sabres registered double-digit shots on goal (10); most of which were of the low danger variety.
For the Boys from Long Island, it’s their 11th straight game at home earning at least a point and it’s their fifth straight win over the Sabres this season. They will meet again in less than 24-hours and if hockey history teaches us anything, it’s that the next game will be much different from this one.
The Isles did not receive a power-play opportunity, so they remain 14-for-57 on the season on the man-advantage…The Isles remain the only team in the NHL to not suffer a regulation loss to home (9-0-2 on the season at Nassau Coliseum)…The Islanders wore their Reverse Retro jerseys for the first time this season…Cal Clutterbuck played his 500th game as a member of the NY Islanders…The Isles are the only team in the NHL with four or more players to have scored at least nine goals so far this season: Mathew Barzal, Anders Lee, J.G. Pageau and Jordan Eberle…It was the Islanders first four-goal second period since February 7, 2016, vs. the Oilers…The Islanders have won four-straight overall and are riding a seven-game points streak.
Sunday March 7th Islanders vs. Sabres at Nassau Coliseum at 12pm(EST).