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One Game, One Play - Games 74-78: Islanders Peaks and Valleys and Shutouts and Playoffs

The playoffs are coming...

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NHL: New York Islanders at Winnipeg Jets
A sleepy Mathew Barzal yawns after scoring a goal during an NHL hockey game.
James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports

One game at a time.

Players, coaches, they like to take things one game at a time. These are simple-minded folks who struggle with complex tasks. I’m not. I take things five games at a time. Here’s one play from each of the Islanders’ last five games, during which they went 3-2.

Game 74: Islanders at Canadiens (4-0 loss)

Coming off a brutal 5-0 loss to Boston, the Islanders went into Montreal and were shut out again, 4-0. That was discouraging. They did play a bit better in this one, generating some quality chances that were swallowed up by Carey Price.

The turning point of this game occurred in the second period. Trailing 2-0, Mathew Barzal finds Jordan Eberle on a rush but Price stones him with a great save. Moments later, an exhausted Barzal turns the puck over in the offensive zone and Montreal scores on the ensuing odd-man rush.

The Islanders executed their rush well but Price came up with a fantastic save. Montreal executed their rush perfectly and scored the back-breaking 3-0 goal. That’s it, game over.

Game 75: Islanders at Flyers (4-2 win)

I remember reading this Evolving Wild blog post a few years ago about how fans are too quick to form opinions on whether a player is “working hard” and “giving it his all” during a game. We can’t “really know how hard a player is working” because we just do not know these players as people, it was argued, and work ethic is a byproduct of a player’s ability and role and any number of other factors we are not privy to.

If you’ve been watching Josh Bailey throughout his career, you’d know that’s bullshit.

I think it’s very apparent when Josh Bailey is playing engaged hockey. You see it in the little things. When he’s playing with full effort, he’s actually initiating body contact along the boards. When he’s not, he’s not. He’s reaching and avoiding and poking and hoping.

Early on in the Islanders’ big win over Philly, I noticed Bailey looking more engaged than he had in weeks. Again, it’s the little things where this comes through. Any player will jump to attention if he’s got a prime scoring chance but it’s the constant confrontation along the boards throughout a hockey game where you can see just how eager a player is to initiate physical contact.

So watch these two plays here. The first from the Flyers game shows Bailey skating towards the corner to retrieve the puck. He’s really going after it and he initiates contact with the Flyer to win the battle.

The second play, from a recent game against Calgary, shows the opposite. Bailey stops skating and instead glides toward this puck, kinda sorta reaching out with his stick, but not looking particularly intent on getting on the inside by attacking this spot aggressively.

This was the most engaged and energetic Bailey looked to me in weeks. So it didn’t surprise me his eventual game-winning goal was his first point in nine games and his first goal in 13 games. (He’d end up scoring a second goal, too.)

I think Bailey has generally gotten a raw deal from Islanders fans over the years but I’d be lying if I said he hasn’t frustrated me along the way. An engaged Josh Bailey is a good hockey player, but it’s never a guarantee he’ll be engaged.

Game 76: Islanders vs Coyotes (2-0 win)

Really solid shutout win against the desperate Coyotes. You probably took this one for granted. But do you have any idea what it takes to survive a pack of desperate coyotes? No, of course you don’t. You have no idea. You live a sheltered life, free of coyotes and other deadly wild animals. Lucky you.

Anyway, what stuck out to me from this game was the awesome sight of Robin Lehner winning the no. 1 star and soaking up the adoring Coliseum crowd. What a beautiful thing to watch.

Show me a person who isn’t happy for Lehner’s inspiring performance this season and I’ll show you a heartless bastard.

Game 77: Islanders at Blue Jackets (4-0 loss)

The Islanders get shut out for the third time in five games, losing 4-0 in Columbus. In this game, the Isles played better than they did in Montreal, but they lost by four goals, and so I’m not gonna waste any time on it. Here’s Artemi Panarin’s breakaway goal. I would really love it if the Islanders signed him this offseason.

Game 78: Islanders at Jets (5-4 win)

What a fantastic win for the Islanders. They score the game-tying and game-winning goals in a thirty-second span with less than two minutes left in the third. Watch Barzal on Eberle’s game-winner. Holy smokes was that a ridiculous pass from behind the net.

That was also a great tackle by Anders Lee on Eberle into the net. It was such perfect form, you’d think he played football at some point in his life, but I doubt he did, because he was probably too busy playing hockey.

What a game that was and what a season this has been. The Islanders can clinch a playoff spot with a win over the Sabres tonight at Nassau Coliseum. I just typed that sentence and it is factually correct. Wow.

See you next time.