The New York Islanders visited one of their primary and hottest competitors for Metropolitan Division seeding and playoff position and ruthlessly dismissed the Columbus Blue Jackets in front of their home fans.
The Blue Jackets entered on a four-game winning streak, but Thursday night the cannon never fired. The Islanders were coming off a regulation loss in Buffalo where Barry Trotz said they got off their game, were “too cute.”
That wasn’t the case tonight. The Islanders structure was strong, Thomas Griess was stellar in a 31-save shutout, and Casey Cizikas scored two(!) breakaway(!) goals to provide all the lead the 2018-19 Islanders tend to need. Josh Bailey’s rebound goal to make it 3-0 late in the second period essentially sealed the game, and the final score.
On another night, maybe this goes another way. Maybe Cizikas doesn’t finish on Sergei Bobrovsky with two different moves. Maybe Greiss’ shutout doesn’t hold. Maybe the bounces don’t go the Islanders’ way.
But Greiss was outstanding, Cizikas was creative and clinical, and the Islanders continued to be the most frustrating opponent of 2019.
Not going to go period by period for this one, but rather reflect overall. It’s just kind of crazy, all of it. Except for the offensive slump — which is an occasional side effect of disciplined defensive structure — every piece for the Islanders is clicking.
Greiss had good saves in every period, though the Islanders still created the more high-danger chances. Then with a comfortable 3-0 lead in the third, the Islanders let the Blue Jackets push hard in the third, but the Isles were calm — almost Ivan Drago nerves of steel — in the face of chaotic Columbus frenzy.
Even in the final minute, with Greiss’ shutout still under great threat, the Islanders each calmly followed their marks and forced the Blue Jackets to have to make an outstanding passing play that never emerged.
Thomas Greiss is Mr. Humble. Mentioned to him he had allowed just three goals in his last six starts and he started talking about luck. And, no, not false modesty, he started listing the shots he thought could've gone in tonight.— Andrew Gross (@AGrossNewsday) February 15, 2019
Go, Casey, Go
Greiss, by the way, made two good saves and a nice puck-swat to get a second assist on Cizikas’ first goal, which opened scoring at 7:06 of the first period. Cal Clutterbuck picked it up and sent Cizikas away.
Given another breakaway, Cizikas went forehand, catching Bobrovsky on the off-beat as he stickhandled in and shot from further out.
Just outstanding 1v1 work by the Best Fourth Line Center in Hockey.
Pulock, Barzal, Bailey with the Dagger
Bailey’s goal is worth dissecting, because there were some outstanding plays by each Islander. They had the Blue Jackets on the ropes, down 2-0 in the final minute of the second period against a line that had been stuck out there too long.
The replays don’t show it, but Ryan Pulock recognized the fatigue, and froze the Blue Jackets. (In fact, Pulock headed off the ice for a change right after his pass.) While most of the time it’s good to keep your feet moving, when you have a worn-down opposing line you can take advantage of their attempts to preserve their gas. So when Pulock had an exchange in the right wing faceoff circle, instead of keeping on the move he stopped...which caused four Blue Jackets to stop and wait to see what would happen next. Maybe they’d get away with it and catch a breather.
The rest of the Islanders kept moving, and Pulock found Barzal below the goal line, where he kept the Blue Jackets guessing on both sides of the net, and fed Tom Kuhnhackl for an outstanding chance. (Kuhnhackl was in the lineup for Michael Dal Colle, not because of anything Dal Colle did, but to get Kuhnhackl’s “veteran presence” back in.) The German’s shot hit a Blue Jackets skate, but it bounced to within the reach of Bailey, who beat a tired Blue Jackets defenseman to the loose puck and put it in.
It’s one of those many plays in a game that could bounce any number of ways that don’t lead to “Islanders Goal.” But they took what was available, did everything right, and were rewarded with a near-insurmountable lead.
“There weren't any passengers tonight!”— MSG Networks (@MSGNetworks) February 15, 2019
Barry Trotz has nothing but praise for his team in his post-game comments to @Shannon_Hogan after the @NYIslanders blanked the Blue Jackets tonight! #Isles pic.twitter.com/0Ph6sAidE2
The regulation victory gives the Islanders a five-point lead over the Capitals for first in the Metro. They’re 10 points up for the wild card standings.
They’ll try to expand on that Saturday in Brooklyn, when the presumably road-weary Oilers will be in town.