The New York Islanders showed some spunk and took advantage of a road-weary, holiday-eying opponent in beating the Buffalo Sabres 5-1 at Barclays Center in both teams’ final outing before the Christmas break.
In a frustrating season marked by struggling special teams, the power play was good, the penalty kill was suffocating, and Thomas Greiss stopped 27 shots while falling just 63 seconds shy of his first shutout of the season.
The win leveled the Isles with the Sabres and Red Wings at 32 points on the season. That’s good for a, heh, three-way tie for last in the East, and well off the pace of the playoff pack, which itself is led by five beastly Metropolitan Division teams.
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Generally speaking, the Isles had the jump all night and made the Sabres look every bit the team playing on its second consecutive night.
Things were even enough in the first period, but the Isles got the better of it with a successful penalty kill and the only goal on a nice Anthony Beauvillier redirection from the slot at 12:05.
B-E-A-U-tiful! @titobeauvi21's tip in the first period has the #Isles up 1-0! pic.twitter.com/z8PatY1ge2— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) December 24, 2016
In the second period the Islanders tried to extend their lead and pour it on with a barrage of shots from any location, a la the Bruins’ comeback effort in the third period on Tuesday night. For a while it looked like that would only end in frustration as no bounces or long-distance volleys found purchase, and Ryan Strome’s shot off the post seemed symbolic.
But Strome finally got the Isles a second goal by beating Zach Bogosian to a rebound of his own shot that rolled behind Anders Nilsson. That came off a nifty Cal Clutterbuck pass in the neutral zone to send Strome in.
Shoot. Drive the net. Bury rebound. Fist pump. @strome18 puts the #Isles up 2-0! pic.twitter.com/L4WPFHMHeU— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) December 24, 2016
And then, with 38 seconds left in the period and the Islanders’ suddenly effective power play asserting itself for a lengthy 90-second first-unit shift, they made it 3-0. The unit of five was clearly tiring, as were the opposition penalty killers, so John Tavares took the puck from behind the net and tried to force the issue.
Anders Lee was enough of a nuisance in front to Jedi-mind-trick the puck across the line. Lee was originally credited with the goal but he didn’t actually make contact with the puck and they changed that during the intermission, leaving the credit to Tavares.
Scoring change on the #Isles third goal. Now credited to @91Tavares pic.twitter.com/l3sKbOwPs6— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) December 24, 2016
Tavares, by the way, continued his recent penalty kill work that is a new addition to his role with Casey Cizikas out injured. His 1:30 of PK time added to 2:52 on the power play.
The Isles didn’t waste much time in the third trying to extend the lead. Already outshooting the Sabres 4-1 at 5:34, Andrew Ladd did the honors on a two-on-two rush by absolutely ripping a shot off Anders Nilsson’s left shoulder and in off the crossbar.
Alan Quine then piled on at 12:34 when he carried the puck in, beat two Sabres, retrieved the puck and spotted Calvin de Haan pinching into the low slot. De Haan had an easy tap-in to make it 5-0.
Zemgus Girgensons ended the shutout bid with a seeing-eye shot from the point with 1:03 left in regulation. (Yeah, I added Greiss to my fantasy team this week so that hurt double.)
Okposo Was Here
In his return to Barclays Center, Kyle Okposo was fairly quiet. Not one toe drag, and a few interrupted zone entries like the Isles defense had practiced against him before. He finished with two shots on goal, and two more that missed the net.
But it was good to see him be warmly received after a nice scoreboard tribute during the first TV stoppage:
Kyle Okposo gets a warm welcome in his return to Brooklyn. #Isles #Sabres pic.twitter.com/o8k1SWLeUV— David Satriano (@davidsatriano) December 24, 2016
No games in the league on Christmas Eve nor Christmas Day Saturday and Sunday. The Islanders will pick things up Tuesday when they host the Washington Capitals. They smoked the Lightning in D.C. tonight.