Now THAT is Islanders hockey. Over the past two games, a 3-1 loss to the Capitals and a 4-3 loss to the Flyers, the Islanders did not look or play like themselves. Perhaps it was some residual hangover type of effect caused by losing Captain Anders Lee to a torn ACL for the rest of the season (and for the playoffs too)? Maybe it was the Hockey Gods balancing things out after a nine-game win/12-game points streak that briefly catapulted the team into first-place in the Eastern (MassMutual) Division?
Those are both plausible explanations, however, Casey Cizikas had a better answer.
After the first period of the Isles’ 6-1 win over those same Flyers Saturday night at Nassau Coliseum, Cizikas spoke with MSG Network’s Shannon Hogan and told her (and the viewers back home) that the Boys from Long Island didn’t like the way they had started in their previous game — their 4-3 loss to the Flyers Thursday night — and that Head Coach Barry Trotz had let them know it.
Knowing what we know about Trotz it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that he’s a master motivator.
Hours before the game, Trotz told the media he was thinking of making a couple of changes to the lineup and during warmups it became clear just what those would be.
The first change was Sebastian Aho, who had been playing reasonably well in place of Noah Dobson (NHL’s COVID List), being replaced by Thomas Hickey. For Hickey it has been quite the roller coaster of a ride since he last saw game action with the Islanders. 716 days to be exact. And during that time span, Hickey went through several trials and tribulations, both on and off the ice; none more difficult than losing his brother to cancer a little over a year ago in March 2020.
After the game, Hickey told reporters: “It meant everything really. Just to be with the guys was big and to chip in was huge. It’s nice to come back and get a win.”
The last time Islanders fans saw Hickey in an NHL game was May 2019, and when it became official he was indeed suiting up against the Flyers there was an outpouring of admiration on social media and at Nassau Coliseum for the longtime Isles defenseman.
And in the Isles fast and furious first period, Hickey said “thank you” the only way he knows how, by playing a solid brand of defense and even chipping in with assists on two of the Islanders’ four-goals in the period.
But we’ll get to those in a minute.
In regards to Trotz’s other lineup changes, Leo Komarov tagged in for Kieffer Bellows and played a number of shifts in Anders Lee’s normal spot on Mathew Barzal’s wing. Trotz also shook up his forward lines and defense pairs, but the bigger move was going to Ilya Sorokin in net instead of Semyon Varlamov.
Sorokin, who has been firmly entrenched as Varlamov’s backup, has been on a hot-streak of late, having won his previous six-straight starts heading into this game; an Islanders rookie record by the way. And he was tested by the Flyers throughout the first two periods of the game, stopping 20 of 21 shots thrown his way in the first 40 minutes of game play. The only shot to beat Sorokin came towards the end of the first period (17:52 to be exact) when Joel Farabee’s blocker side shot beat him to get the Flyers on the board and make the score 4-1 Islanders.
That was the only goal Sorokin allowed as he finished the game having stopped 23 of the 24 shots he faced. And for the rookie netminder, it was his seventh consecutive win; extending his franchise rookie record for goaltenders.
Now back to how the win unfolded.
6:11 into the game, with the Islanders on the power-play courtesy of Travis Konecny tripping Adam Pelech, J.G. Pageau scored his first goal in the last 10-games to get the Isles offense off and running.
On the play, Josh Bailey won a puck battle along the boards before Pageau passed the puck over to Oliver Wahlstrom, who was stationed up high. Wahlstrom fired the puck towards Carter Hart in the Flyers’ net but the shot was blocked and ping-ponged right to Pageau’s blade. Pageau one-timed the puck into the “open” net and it was 1-0 Islanders.
Just 1:50 after Pageau’s power-play goal, Jordan Eberle got off his goal-scoring schneid by spying the loose puck through a goal-mouth scramble and deposited it past Hart for the 2-0 lead.
Thomas Hickey got the play started by carrying the down to the Flyers’ goal-line before circling behind the net and throwing the puck towards the crease to create some chaos in front of Hart. Eventually, Eberle came streaking in and went top-shelf for his first goal in nine-games. And on the goal, Hickey earned a secondary assist for his work prior to the puck entering the net.
2:02 after Eberle’s goal, Casey Cizikas joined the goal-scoring party to make it 3-0 and netted his first marker in his last seven-games.
Nate Prosser attempted to bring the puck out of Philadelphia’s zone when Cizikas stripped him of the puck at the blue-line and broke in on Hart before ripping a wrister from the left face-off dot over the glove of Hart for the Islanders third goal in under four-minutes; forcing Flyers’ Head Coach Alain Vigneault to call a timeout.
The game settled down for the next couple of shifts before Cizikas went back to work at the 15:25 mark of the first period. And once again, Thomas Hickey was in on the action.
Cizikas won a puck battle below the Flyers goal-line and Oliver Wahlstrom missed the connection, which allowed the puck to kick out to Hickey at the left face-off dot. Hickey fired the puck cross-ice to Cizikas and Cizikas promptly put it in the “Toy Department” as Butch Goring likes to say; increasing the Islanders lead to 4-0. For Cizikas it was his second goal in just over a five-minute span and for Hickey, it was his second assist of the period; this one of the primary variety.
10-seconds later, Oskar Lindblom and Oliver Wahlstrom dropped the gloves — let that matchup sink in for a minute — and the two youngsters danced around a bit until Wahlstrom dropped Lindblom with a heavy left hand shot. I guess the youngster can do more than score.
The second period was quite on a goal-scoring front as neither team scored; although, the Islanders used several stretches of prolonged puck possession to apply an immense amount of pressure on Carter Hart as they looked for the knockout blow. Hart, battered and bruised, stood tall though.
On to the third period with the Nassaumen leading 4-1.
Just before the midway point of the third, (9:45 to be precise), Anthony Beauvillier got in on the fun with his first-goal in the last nine-games to open up a 5-1 Islanders lead.
Beauviller forced a turnover down low from Prosser and after Brock Nelson got the puck back to Beauvillier, the Isles winger beat Hart blocker side to get the monkey off his back.
6:01 later, Carter Hart attempted to play the puck from below the goal-line and passed it right to Josh Bailey, who promptly cut to the middle of the ice and shot the puck into the “empty” net for the 6-1 Isles lead and his first goal in five-games.
That was it for the action as the Islanders took the game 6-1 and now head to Philadelphia for the third game of this three-game set on Monday night. And for the Islanders, it was a welcome sight to see some of their big guns finally put the puck in the back of the net.
After the game, Barry Trotz said: “I think it’s really important. Some guys have been playing really well and have not been rewarded. Getting off the schneid helps the confidence.”
The Isles went 1-for-2 on the power-play to bring their season tally to 17-for-80…Happy 30th Birthday to Nick Leddy, who entered the game against the Flyers tied for the fifth-most assists by a defenseman in the NHL this season…J.G. Pageau’s power-play goal was his first marker in 10-games…Jordan Eberle’s goal was his first in nine-games…Anthony Beauvillier’s goal was also his first in nine-games…Josh Bailey’s third period marker was his first in five-games…And Casey Cizikas’ goals were his first in seven-games.
Monday March 22nd Islanders at Flyers at Wells Fargo Center at 7pm(EST).