As LaFontaine16 said (in jest) today, tonight’s game had all the makings of an Islanders loss. They played and traveled the night before while their opponent, the Coyotes, played at home and hadn’t played since Sunday.
But these aren’t your normal Islanders. These are Barry Trotz’s Islanders.
Two First Goals of the Season in the First
The ‘Yotes got on the board before the Isles did tonight, currying fear that tonight’s game would be the classic stinker in the second half of a back-to-back. Mario Kempe, a 30 year-old Swede playing in just his 30th NHL game, got his first of the season after he carried the puck about 160 feet up the ice and crossed the blueline relatively uncontested by Adam Pelech before flicking a weak wrister over the short side glove of Robin Lehner. He probably would like to have that one back, but he played really well the rest of the night to redeem himself and hold off Arizona.
Joshua Ho-Sang continued his smart and effective play tonight and it paid dividends on the scoresheet. The top power play unit spent the full two minutes in the Arizona zone with Oliver Ekman-Larsson in the box, and after he returned to the ice, the Islanders sent out the third line, who kept the puck in New York’s control. Ho-Sang retrieved the puck at the bottom of the left circle and fed Valtteri Filppula for the one-timer from the slot that was stopped by Darcy Kuemper. The rebound bounced out to Ryan Pulock at the point as Ho-Sang circled around the net and into the left corner. Pulock’s shot never reached the net and met Ho-Sang where he was, and he snapped a one-time wrister with no angle and still managed to find the twine. His celebration said it all.
This shot from the Islanders is awesome in its own right but also somehow captures 5 different jerseys styles pic.twitter.com/ML2FSZaQxJ— Kevin Schultz (@Schultz88) December 19, 2018
Two Islanders Get Their 11th Goals in the Second
Brock Nelson, who was a game-time decision after leaving night’s game against the Avalanche by way of Ian Cole’s knee, made his presence known with style. A broken play created by more of that consistent time spent in the offensive zone that’s been characteristic of the Islanders these last couple of weeks found its way onto Nelson’s stick after Jordan Eberle battled for the puck in the slot and popped it out to the tall Minnesotan, who snapped a stick-bender past Kuemper to put the Isles on top.
And then Anthony Beauvillier, who is making a really good habit of finishing off the work of his linemates, got his 4th goal in 5 games, one-timing a Josh Bailey set up for the insurance. Bailey held on to the puck long enough to get Kuemper to commit to his shot just a little bit, and Beauvillier got his shot off quicker than Kuemper could get back.
Grinding It Out in the Third
Barry Trotz played all four of his lines throughout the third period, showing faith in all of his players to close out the win - including Ho-Sang, who played 15:06 tonight. It was about the same amount as his linemates Filppula and Leo Komarov, and almost all of it was at even strength. Trotz also named Ho-Sang as one of the team’s better players tonight in his post-gamer with Shannon Hogan.
And I probably have said this before, but it’s truly a wild feeling that the Islanders are sure bets to close out a 2-goal lead on the road in their sixth period of hockey in two days against a team that was well-rested and slept in their own beds last night.
The hairiest moment came right at the end of the game. Mathew Barzal took a lazy hooking penalty in the neutral zone with about 3 minutes left in the game, and the Coyotes pulled Kuemper to go 6-on-4. They threatened the duration of the game, even when Barzal got back on the ice, but as time wound down it was clear the Isles had it in the bag. Every skater played a solid game and Lehner recovered spectacularly from the early howler to give the Isles a 2-0-0 start to their road trip and 3 straight wins overall. They sit 1 point out of second place in the Metro.
They get a well-earned day without game action tomorrow before playing the Golden Knights in Las Vegas on Thursday night at 10:00 p.m. They play Vegas for the second (and last) time this season in 8 days and 5 games. Excited to see the Islanders try to exact revenge for the blown lead last week.