The Islanders got to stop home to play the Blue Jackets between their California road trip last week and their two-game back-to-back road trip on Monday and Tuesday. It was the perfect opportunity to get back to playing, as Barry Trotz describes it, “Islanders hockey” against Columbus’s back-up goalie, Elvis Merzlikins.
They took an early lead, getting their captain off the schneid in the process, and then played to their strengths the rest of the game. Columbus played the night before but came in 5-1-2 in their previous eight games, so they gave the Islanders a challenge, but were ultimately unable to beat either of Thomas Greiss and Semyon Varlamov in a quick game with one penalty. It wasn’t the best night of hockey Barry Trotz’s Islanders have played, but it was effective enough and their goalie tandem did the rest.
First Period: Quick-Lee Taking the Lead, Greiss Leaves
It only took one shot for the Islanders to get on the scoreboard with their revamped lines. The new top line saw Josh Bailey back with Mathew Barzal and Anders Lee and they paid immediate dividends off an odd-man rush. Barzal got to one face-off dot and fed Bailey at the other face-off dot. Bailey quickly found the trailer, Lee, and he ripped it past Elvis Merzlikins to give the Isles the lead.
Shortly after the goal, Lee nearly scored in a one-on-one against Zach Werenski. The way Lee collided with Werenski seemed to severely injure the young Columbus defenseman, and he would not return.
Also, during the last commercial break of the period, Greiss skated over to the bench and spoke with Varlamov and Trotz and hopped over the bench. Varlamov made his first relief appearance of the season. Greiss remained on the bench as the back-up for the duration of the game, but—and I’m speculating along with the broadcast—it seems Greiss was feeling a little under the weather. I believe the trainer was checking his heart rate. Hope he’s feeling better.
Second Period: Quiet Until Barzal’s Breakaway
The Islanders went to work trying to keep the Jackets toward the outside, and in the second period they were most effective at it. It was the only period in which they controlled the high-danger scoring chance game, and it wasn’t by much. But Varlamov kept the puck out of the net and a great individual play by Barzal, with a little help from Adam Pelech, gave the Isles a cushion.
He tipped a Columbus centering feed and the puck landed on Pelech’s stick. Barzal took off like a shot down the other end of the ice after he tipped it and tracked down Pelech’s perfect lob pass to get a breakaway against Oliver Bjorkstrand. Barzal gained a full stick-length on Bjorkstrand and got Merzlikins to lay down before roofing the puck off his backhand. Business as usual for the young star.
Things we love: Barzal breakaway goals pic.twitter.com/Ff9rK2GaAq— Isles on MSG Plus (@IslesMSGN) December 1, 2019
Third Period: Weathering the Storm
The Blue Jackets pushed hard in the final frame, showing a great amount of energy for a team that played the night before. The Islanders got a little loose in their own end and Columbus was able to generate a lot of good scoring opportunities. But Varlamov stood tall and kept the puck out of the net and frustrated the Jackets.
The Islanders especially conceded a lot of chances against during the six-on-four, created when Bailey went to the box in the only penalty of the game, a penalty that was definitely interference but an odd penalty to call as the only infraction of the game with three minutes left. No matter, the shutout was preserved.
Thomas Greiss was the goalie of record and got the win, but Semyon Varlamov was the driving force and was appropriately named the first star of the game. He had a memorable on-ice interview with Shannon Hogan, in which he said he was waiting for his popcorn when he got sent in. He finished the night with 30 saves; Greiss had nine of his own as the Blue Jackets were shut out on 39 shots.
#CBJvsNYI Expected Goals by Model— Carey Haber (@habermetrics) December 1, 2019
Jackets - Isles (Model)
3.77 - 2.06 (MoneyPuck)
3.52 - 2.44 (NST)
4.06 - 2.35 (EvolvingHockey)
AVG: 3.78 - 2.28 (CBJ 62.38%)
NYI Goalies stole the show.
On a related note, it wasn’t exactly “Islanders hockey,” but at times, it looked like it, and it definitely had an “Islanders hockey” result.
It was a pretty good offensive showing from the Islanders, but defensively not their strongest. Heat map shows a lot of quality for both teams (but more for CBJ). pic.twitter.com/c4yoxHRqk3— Carey Haber (@habermetrics) December 1, 2019
- Ho hum, another two-point effort for Mathew Barzal, and both points were the result of highlight-reel plays. He is something else. I love that guy.
- Glad that Anders Lee was able to score a goal again. I always love the look of relief on players’ faces after they end a long goal-scoring drought.
- Speaking of which, Jordan Eberle is so damn close to ending his drought. The poor guy is cursed—I believe he even put one off the shaft of Merzlikins’s goal stick.
- And speaking of Merzlikins: he played pretty well tonight. This poor guy is still looking for his first NHL win.
A preview of Trotz’s post-game press conference:
Trotz pleased to see the boys back on track after a tough road trip pic.twitter.com/qTjm6sIl6w— Isles on MSG Plus (@IslesMSGN) December 1, 2019
The Islanders have a back-to-back of road games on Monday and Tuesday nights. On Monday, they’ll be in Detroit to play Frans Nielsen and the Red Wings (7:30 p.m. start) and Tuesday night, they’ll be in Montreal to play the Canadiens (7:00 p.m. start).