Anthony Beauvillier scored twice, Mathew Barzal had a goal and a Leaf-burning assist, and the Islanders overcame a dire second period and blown 2-0 lead to hang on for a 5-4 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, extending their points streak to 13 games.
Despite the gaggle of Toronto media descending on the scene and asserting otherwise, this meeting at Nassau Coliseum was no longer about the former Islanders captain; fans got that out of their system at the first meeting last season. But it was still an electric atmosphere, and the game had enough twists, ups and downs to live up to the hype.
The win keeps the Isles five points behind the Capitals — who beat the Flyers in a shootout in a game that finished a little later — for first place in the Metropolitan Division. The Leafs remained a point outside of the Wild Card.
First Period: This will be easy, right?
The Islanders had the better of play in a still back-and-forth first period, and got the goals to show for it.
Barzal opened scoring just over five minutes in after a wonderful by Jordan Eberle in his second game back from injury. Eberle kept the puck in, won a battle to turn William Nylander inside out, then froze Frederik Andersen with a no-look pass across the slot to Barzal.
The Isles then killed the Leafs’ first power play, and converted on a power play of their own in the final minute of the period. Anthony Beauvillier made a couple of great board plays to keep the puck moving around the zone, then took the space given him by a Ryan Pulock feed to walk in from the circle and fire over Andersen’s shoulder.
That made it 2-0 heading into the first period. All good, right?
Second Period: No. Not easy.
The Leafs adjusted, and the Islanders were downright sloppy — perhaps cocky? — throughout the second period, with the Leafs generating the first 11 shots and constantly keeping the Isles on the run.
Kasperi Kapanen struck in the first minute, converting a pretty combination with each Islander a little loose in covering his man. That made it 2-1 and perhaps gave the Leafs life. The Islanders looked out of sorts.
But it wasn’t until 11:22 that the Leafs struck again to tie it at 2-2, Nylander outreaching Brock Nelson on a counterattack where Nelson ended up as one of the de facto defensemen on a 3-on-2.
And yet: Fortune was on the Islanders’ side tonight.
Barry Trotz mixed the lines up, moving Josh Bailey, and then Michael Dal Colle next to Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck, and shifting center Derrick Brassard back to wing, where he’s had far more success with Nelson and Beauvillier.
Sure enough, Brassard kept play alive in the Leafs zone to feed Beauvillier, whose initial pass gesture may have backed Andersen to deep into his net. Instead, Beauvillier blindly backhanded through Andersen’s legs for a 3-2 lead.
It was the Islanders’ second official shot of the period.
Third Period: Uncomfortable, but we’ll take it
Entering the third with a one-goal lead, the Islanders were tested early with a Leafs power play. But Cizikas had one of his patented “The Shift’ episodes on the penalty kill, where he created a scoring chance by stripping Morgan Rielly, then drew a (uncalled) crosscheck after winning a board battle with a frustrated Auston Matthews.
Just a few minutes later, it was the Islanders’ turn on the power play, and Barzal’s ridiculous moves set up Brassard for the insurance goal. I just, I can’t even:
Kapanen bursting into flames on that Barzal deke is incredible.— Not That I Particularly Care (@KeithLHHockey) November 14, 2019
That made things feel comfortable again, and close watchers of the Barry Trotz Era Isles might think it was as good as game, set, match.
With a few minutes left and trailing 4-2, the Leafs pulled Andersen for a sixth attacker. Fireworks would ensue.
It looked like the game was comfortably put away, and the karma-tempting “We don’t need you!” chants began, after Casey Cizikas bounced a backhander from the neutral zone, over Auston Matthews’ stick, into the empty net to make it 5-2 at 17:32.
We have to consider that a lot of Cizikas' ice time is against players who happen to be worse than him. I ran some cursory statistics and determined that this amounts to approximately 100% of his ice time, since literally everyone in the NHL is worse than Casey Cizikas— Ryan (@Ry_Gro) November 14, 2019
But the Leafs’ explosive offense is always a threat, and it only takes one miscue or abandoned assignment to feel it. The first one was on the goalie: a misplayed rebound by Semyon Varlamov gave the Leafs life, with Justin Holl streaking around the net for a wraparound goal to make it 5-3 with 1:47 left.
The next one was typical 6-on-5 net-front chaos. John Tavares knocked in a rebound with 37 seconds left to make it 5-4 and make the final half minute really, really uncomfortable.
Thankfully, the Islanders held on and avoided what would have been a real embarrassment. Like Trotz said after the comeback shootout loss to the Penguins — the lone blemish on this 13-game points streak — “it won’t be a trend.”
Islanders win a total toss-up of a game that became very exciting. Mathew Barzal was ridiculous.— Carey Haber (@habermetrics) November 14, 2019
Final 5v5 Score Adjusted Metrics via NST
Isles 39.63% Attempts
Isles 49.57% High Danger (12.77 - 12.99)
Isles 50.27% Expected Goals (2.04 - 2.02)
Isles shot map gonna shot map. pic.twitter.com/Ihb0CVrkyn
The Islanders are in Philadelphia Saturday, and the Flyers have been surging and currently sit third in the Metro. Next week features a Tuesday-Thursday home-and-home with the Penguins before the first Western trip begins.