For as long as John Tavares is a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the New York Islanders and the Leafs will be linked and their trajectory as teams will be compared and contrasted by the media and by fans. With that in mind, the Narratives led this game to be far more significant than just any old regular season game. On paper, the stacked Maple Leafs, 2nd in the NHL, looked like the obvious favorite, but in one of the biggest games of the season, the Islanders gave their best performance of the season and completely dominated one of the NHL’s elite teams.
Valtteri Filppula opened the scoring and Mathew Barzal proved why he’s a star in this league with a second period natural hat trick to lead the Islanders to a 4-0 shutout win in Toronto.
[Game Sum | Event Sum | Natural Stat Trick | HockeyViz | Corsica]
A fast-paced start to the game made it seem like this one had all the signs of a high-scoring goal fest for both teams, especially after Valtteri Filppula lit the lamp about halfway through the period.
Ryan Pulock passed the puck forward to Michael Dal Colle, who dished it off to Filppula, who then split his two defenders (Travis Dermott and Igor Ozhiganov) to fire the puck past Garrett Sparks, giving the Islanders a 1-0 lead. Dal Colle registered his first NHL point on the goal.
If Ledecky and Malkin are looking for ideas for statues outside of the new arena at Belmont, well....
The Islanders then went to the power play after Frederik Gauthier tripped Cal Clutterbuck, but didn’t score on the man advantage. Casey Cizikas went to the box for high sticking Jake Gardiner, but the Islanders killed the penalty, thanks in part to some strong saves by Robin Lehner, preserving the 1-0 lead.
Welcome everyone to the Barzal Show.
Early in the second period, Johnny Boychuk took a shot from up high that bounced around and tipped in off Mathew Barzal. It was Barzal’s first goal of the night, and it wouldn’t be long before his second.
Leafs winger Andreas Johnsson took a penalty for a blatant hold on Devon Toews, putting the Islanders on the power play. For his second of the night, Barzal took a slap shot that got to the net and appeared to initially be deflected by Anders Lee, but actually came off the stick of Nikita Zaitsev, giving Barzal credit for the power play goal.
About five minutes later, Barzal would complete his natural hat trick, on a 2 on 1 with Anthony Beauvillier. Barzal seemed to consider passing to Beauvillier, a combination that has often produced goals for Beau, but this time Barzal opted to shoot, wristing it past Sparks for his third of the game, giving the Islanders a 4-0 lead.
To keep that four goal lead, Robin Lehner would make impressive back to back saves on attempts from Mitch Marner and John Tavares, and Scott Mayfield blocked a late shot from Auston Matthews.
Leo Komarov took a penalty for high sticking Mitch Marner, but it was counteracted by Patrick Marleau crosschecking Scott Mayfield. The Leafs had some chances during the 48 seconds of 4 on 4 play, but ultimately there were no goals on their power play, the 4 on 4, or the Islanders’ following power play.
Josh Ho-Sang and Brock Nelson had a 2 on 1 opportunity, but weren’t able to score, though the Nelson line had looked good all game despite not showing up on the scoresheet. Lehner made a few late saves to preserve the shutout, and the Islanders closed out the game to earn their 4-0 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
- Barzal’s hat trick was the first Islander hat trick against the Leafs since Mike Bossy scored one in 1986. Lehner’s shutout was the first for an Islander since 1997, and the first ever in Toronto, per the MSG broadcast. Barry Trotz earned his 782nd NHL victory as head coach, tying Islanders and NHL legend Al Arbour’s 782, 4th all-time for NHL wins.
- As mentioned above, even though the Lee-Nelson-Ho-Sang line didn’t show up on the scoresheet, they played well together and generated offensive opportunities nearly every time they were on the ice. Ho-Sang may have secured his NHL spot in these past few games.
- Michael Dal Colle looked sharp tonight, and so did the entire Filppula line. Dal Colle’s performance may be the biggest surprise of the season, and he didn’t look out of place at all, like he did in his first stint in the NHL last season. He may also earn his NHL spot during this stretch of games.
- The Islanders have gotten better and better as the season’s progressed, a sign that Trotz’s system has been getting the most out of his players, but also a sign that playing and trusting the young talent on this team isn’t a bad idea. Toews and Ho-Sang have made a real impact over these past few games, and with some more playing time, Dal Colle may join them as impactful mid-season additions.
Next, the New York Islanders head to Buffalo to take on the Sabres on New Years Eve. The Sabres sit in 3rd in the Atlantic Division after a surprising start, and their young team seems to have finally clicked. Hopefully the Isles will avoid a post-Leafs hangover and end the year on a high note.