Tonight was the final regular season Barclays Center game this season. It wasn’t a pretty one by any stretch of the imagination, but as they’ve done a few times this season, the Islanders found a way to win via some good fortune and insanely strong goaltending.
A Slow Start Against a Bad Team with High-End Talent
The Islanders didn’t look too hot through the entire first period. They had a couple isolated chances that made brief Islander Mikko Koskinen work a little bit but play was generally in the Islanders’ zone and they struggled to contain the lethal combination of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl — I guess coach Ken Hitchcock figured he might as load up the top line if the rest of the team isn’t very good.
It worked early on, and the Oilers looked very strong to start the game, perhaps even invigorated by the acquisitions of Anthony Stolarz and old Edmonton favorite Sam Gagner. Islanders goalie Robin Lehner weathered the storm, though, and kept the scoresheet blank when the horn sounded.
The night’s Extremely Barclays Moment of the Night was when, toward the end of the period, the car alarm in the SUV in the corner and the Christmas lights surrounding the platform on which it is parked started randomly going off.
Sound the Alarm, I Guess?
I guess the car was a signal for the Isles to get their asses in line because they came out in the second in high gear, scoring in the first three minutes of the period on the power play, courtesy of the two defensemen on PP2. Halfway through their second power play, Barry Trotz sent out the second unit for an offensive zone face-off. Josh Bailey won the draw back to Devon Toews, and he found Ryan Pulock, who had drifted to the opposite face-off circle to the Ovechkin Office, for a one-time blast that glanced off Koskinen’s shoulder.
They were able to extend their lead by way of a beautiful and wonderfully fortunate tip off of Valtteri Filppula’s stick. The initial shot came from Nick Leddy at the point, and was assisted by Johnny Boychuk as well, meaning defensemen recorded 4 of the 6 points in the second period for the Islanders.
They wouldn’t escape unscathed, though, as they got caught looking ahead to the third and allowing the Oilers to pull within one. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins got his twig on Kris Russell’s shot from the back of the rush at 19:57 of the second. The Islanders also would end the period with their captain in the box; during a New York power play, Darnell Nurse gave Anders Lee three cross-checks and Lee responded with a high stick that may or may not have been incidental, and the two scrapped. They danced around for a bit, and then Lee landed quite a few uppercuts on Nurse.
Weathering Another Storm
The two-goal lead was restored by Mathew Barzal’s deflection, with Toews getting the primary assist by taking the shot from the point. Barzal largely created the play by winning a battle on the rush and getting the puck out to the point with one hand on his stick and while falling down.
The rest of the period belonged to the Oilers, though — really, McDavid, who played over 10 minutes through the third period, according to the MSG+ broadcast. They cut the lead down to 1 again on the first of three consecutive Edmonton power plays. Cal Clutterbuck, who had left in the second due to an apparent injury but returned for the third, thought he had forced a turnover at the blueline and was off to the races for a breakaway, but he didn’t have the puck. It didn’t leave the zone, and the Oilers had numbers coming back. Draisaitl and McDavid played cross-ice catch and drew Lehner out of position, and the German hit a wide-open net.
The three consecutive power plays resulted in a dangerous amount of zone time for the Oilers, and there was that creeping feeling that they were going to tie it. The Isles had trouble breaking out of their zone at various points throughout the entire game, and especially so during the third. But Lehner was able to hold off the barrage and wouldn’t allow another goal.
Leo Komarov was able to push the puck out of the zone on one of those particular instances of extended zone time, and he and Lee broke out for a two-on-one. Komarov’s bouncing pass still found Lee’s stick and Lee’s shot got to the net before Koskinen could get over, bringing the lead back to two. Off the subsequent center ice face-off, Edmonton tried to get Koskinen off the ice for the extra attacker, but Brock Nelson recovered the puck before he was able to get off and he snapped it right into the middle of the net from the slot in his own zone.
It had been a while since the Isles scored five goals, and this wasn’t exactly the dominating performance that one might assume would have led to a five-goal game. But two points are two points and they all count at the end of the season.
By the ol’ eye test, Devon Toews and Ryan Pulock were quite effective tonight, as they have been for the last ten games or so. Mathew Barzal had a better game, as well. Adam Pelech had a bit of a rough go of it, as did anyone that had to take on McDavid and Draisaitl for an extended amount of time. The numbers on Corsica suggest that Nick Leddy had a strong game, as well, while also suggesting that Toews and Pulock weren’t at their best, but the team as a whole got shelled. The McDavid line was above 70% in CF%, which is absurd even in one game.
While general consensus is that a team should spread its scoring across different lines to increase the amount of time there is elite scoring talent on the ice in a game, loading them all up on one line can sometimes catch a slow-ish team like the Islanders and it worked quite well for Edmonton tonight. Were it not for Robin Lehner, the Oilers probably win this one. Giving that elite talent three consecutive power plays isn’t something you generally want to do, but they managed to escape with the regulation win.
The Islanders now lead the idle Capitals by five points in the Metro (even in games played) and the Blue Jackets by seven (who will have one game in hand when the night is done — they lead the Blackhawks 3-2 at the time of this writing).
The Islanders are off for a few days before heading out to western Canada. They’ll be in Calgary to play the Flames on Wednesday night at 9:30 p.m. ET, and in Edmonton to take on these same Oilers Thursday night at 9:00 p.m. ET. Then they’ll visit the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night for a 10:00 p.m. ET puck drop.