The New York Islanders visited Buffalo and nearly walked away with an easy victory before a quick turn in the second period transformed a 3-0 cakewalk lead into a 3-2 nailbiter. That ended up being the final score, an impressive feat of "that was close!" for the Sabres given that they managed only 10 shots on Jaroslav Halak.
That's right: 10 shots on goal allowed by the Isles ties a franchise record and creates a new one for a road game, per Eric Hornick. The Sabres appear well on their way to shattering all-time lows for possession and shot metrics in the Corsi era, and today was another . For official shots on goal through the three periods, it went like this: 9-5, 15-3, 7-2.
As for the actual goals, the Islanders got theirs from recall Colin McDonald on a great drive and pass from Casey Cizikas, Anders Lee on a magnificent heads-up retrieval from behind the net after Travis Hamonic shot wide on a 2-on-1, and Mikhail Grabovski on a lovely high-corner shot after Hamonic carried down the boards to find Grabovski in the high slot.
The Islanders have 34 wins on the season after 53 games, landing them back in first place in the Metropolitan Division. It took them 82 games to reach 34 wins last season (and no, they never made it to first place).
Dominance, Yet Fear
Shot attempts were 30-10 for the Islanders after the first 20 minutes, and that reflection of the run of play did not change for the rest of the game.
However, if an overmatched team like the Sabres is going to get to you, it's going to be through some opportunistic forays the moment the game's mismatch lulls you into complacency. We saw it in December when the Isles lost a 3-0 lead and lost in a shootout, and we thought we might see it tonight after the Isles made it 3-0 at 11:22 of the second period, Ted Nolan called a timeout to shout some life back into his futile troops, and the Sabres potted two goals within the next five minutes.
The Isles hadn't shelled, and the Sabres hadn't exactly surged -- though they did show more pressure than at any time up to that point -- but Marcus Foligno got a goal by crashing the net on a rebound, and Drew Stafford got the second on a great individual play after a hot-potato turnover exchange at the Isles blueline.
To survive another embarrassment, the Islanders beleaguered penalty kill then had to kill a few dangerous ones, a couple of them refreshingly convincingly, including a head-scratching call that created a 32-second 5-on-3 early in the third period.
Also with the score 3-2, Lee, who had a fantastic game, delivered one of the better "This isn't happening on my watch" defensive plays to prevent a right-wing rush on Halak that could have matched Stafford's.
The Islanders had their additional chances throughout the game -- Lee hit the post, Michal Neuvirth robbed John Tavares on a rising slapper glove side, Cizikas put a prime slot opportunity in Neuvirth's chest, and McDonald might've had a second if it were Cizikas passing again instead of Matt Martin -- but this one was destined to be close on the scoreboard.
As you know from the shot clock, the Isles did a good job keeping play out of their zone most of the rest of the third period, all the way to neutering the Sabres' 6-on-5 "effort" with Neuvirth pulled. But a one-goal lead is a one-goal lead: Always cause for nervousness and dread of the next bounce up ahead.
Thankfully, this time the Isles were spared being one of the footnotes to this Sabres season, and they can take their regulation win and head happily homeward.
Filling in for Cal Clutterbuck, McDonald slotted into his old spot next to Cizikas and Martin in 10:50 of TOI. That meant Harry Zolnierczyk got more time (11:57) in his Islanders debut, with his most notable contribution being when he goaded Tyler Myers into a stupid penalty after an icing.
Lubomir Visnovsky slotted back into the lineup (and had a few loose moments) next to Thomas Hickey, leaving Brian Strait to slide into Calvin de Haan's spot next to Hamonic.
The word on de Haan, if you haven't heard after that scary skate to the face late in the Bruins game, is he's stitched up, gonna be okay, and certainly benefited from the fact he wears a shield.
Quote(s) of the Night
The Islanders ran part one of the Bobby Nystrom episode of Stan Fischler's "Coliseum Memories" series.
Fischler asked, "After the Isles were beaten in '78, lost to the Rangers in '79…what was missing? How did you get better and change things?"
The biggest issue with the '78 series was toughness, for one thing. But in the '79 series, on the season we put so much pressure on ourselves to win the President's Cup, by the time we got to the playoffs we were all of the sudden, "Well what now?" We didn't have any juice left, we couldn't regenerate. In that respect we probably played it wrong.
We started off poorly in '79-80, but we didn't really feel the pressure to accomplish over the regular season. We didn't need that. We just wanted to focus on getting ready for the playoffs, and being in a position where, when it came to the end of the season we were rolling at full power.
What about getting by the Bruins?
It's funny, Clark and I were watching this newscast on Boston TV, and the sportscaster says, 'These guys can't match up, the Bruins are gonna run them right out of the building.' Clark and I just about went through the TV set to grab this guy.
But we made the decision that night that we were gonna be the guys who had to lead it off. Early in that game I fought John Wensink. After I got kicked off I guess the brawl broke out, and Clark fought with Terry O'Reilly. That was really the turning point for the New York Islanders.
Look for part two during the pre-game for Tuesday's game with the Oilers.