For 20 minutes, they did it. The Islanders came out flying the zone and crashing the net and stealing the puck and all of that stuff we saw last season. Then, they almost gave it back, playing static and sloppy in the second period.
Then it was Brock Nelson to the rescue and back into the win column at an important time.
All that first period pressure didn't amount to anything for the Islanders at first, but after weathering an early penalty, Ryan Strome knocked home a Matt Martin shot (yes, you read that right) that sneaked through the legs of Anton Forsberg for the lead. The goal broke a 16-game scoreless streak for Strome, who played a heck of a game next to John Tavares.
A double minor to Fedor Tyutin for high-sticking Tavares looked to keep the possession train rolling, but Nelson took a holding penalty to negate two of the four power play minutes. As Tyutin's penalty expired Jack Johnson and William "Wild Bill" Karlsson combined for a 2-on-1. Thomas Greiss stopped Johnson's shot, but left a tasty rebound for Karlsson to hammer in.
Later, Thomas Hickey neatly avoided a check at center ice and fed Nelson, who scored on a slapshot to the top corner. All told, it was the best period the Islanders had played in a while, outshooting Columbus 17-5 and playing the tenacious brand of hockey we've been looking for.
But the good times didn't last, and the second period was, if not the exact opposite, a return to the bad habits of yesterday (or, more specifically, last week). The Blue Jackets controlled play for the majority of the period and it was just a matter of time before they equalized. After killing a penalty (a Nick Leddy hold that again negated a power play), the Islanders spent a good minute in their own zone until a shot by a cutting David Savard slipped past Greiss. It was Savard's first goal in 38 games this season because why not.
There was a temporary happy ending, though: Brock Nelson's second goal of game came off a turnover in the neutral zone. He broke in on a 2-on-1 with Josh Bailey and decided to keep it himself, going short side on Forsberg. The Islanders didn't exactly deserve the lead, but they'd take it anyway.
The third opened with another Islanders penalty killed and a near miss by Strome on a 2-on-1 with Tavares. After a power play that went nowhere, Brian Strait scored his first of the season on five hole softy by Forsberg. Because why not.
From that point, the Islanders played a fairly smart, structured game and gave Columbus very little while having some chances of their own. Strome thought he had another goal, and Tavares just barely missed scoring off a nice feed from Mikhail Grabovski but couldn't elevate the puck over Forsberg's pad.
But with about five minutes to go, the penalties started. The Islanders killed off one very active Blue Jackets power play caused by a roughing minor to Columbus' Justin Faulk and a double minor to Grabovski for cross-checking and unsportsmanlike conduct, then faced another when Strait high-sticked Brandon Saad. With Forsberg pulled for the extra skater, the Islanders caught a break (figuratively) when Cam Atkinson was given a double minor for high-sticking Nikolay Kulemin, who went immediately to the room.
Nelson completed the hat trick into the empty net after knocking the puck away from Boone Jenner and chasing it past Savard. Somehow, it was a power play goal and it wasn't a work of art, but Nelson's first career hat trick is also the first for an Islander at Barclays Center.
The new lines set before the game showed some life, especially the Grabovski-Strome-Tavares unit. Bailey and Nelson showed good chemistry also, with Nelson mostly lined up at center. Absent the injured Travis Hamonic and Johnny Boychuk on defense, Hickey played an active game and rookie Adam Pelech looked fine. One play that stands out in particular was Pelech staying with a absolutely flying Saad and cutting of a chance to make it a one goal game very late in the third.
So after a bloody, penalty-filled (but fight free) game, it's on to Thursday and a date with the Rangers, whom the Islanders just tied for second place in the Metro. Should be a quiet night.
Boychuk might not have been playing, but he wasn't going to miss his bobblehead night: