The New York Islanders broke a scoring drought that spanned the equivalent of two whole games, and Semyon Varlamov earned a 32-save shutout in his first game against his former team, as the Islanders got a much-needed 1-0 win at Nassau Coliseum.
Against the league’s highest scoring team, the Islanders also blocked 33 shots — evidently tying a franchise record set earlier this season. Whatever it took.
First Period: Missed opportunity
The first period had much of the recipe the Islanders prefer: careful defense, lots of blocked and angled-wide Colorado shots, and some low-event hockey. The teams also traded one ineffective power play each.
Officially, the Isles outshot the Avalanche 15-5 in the first, though it was typical Trotz hockey where the Avs had many more attempts, but mostly from the locations the Isles aren’t too worried about.
Indeed, the Isles were unlucky not to exit the period with at least a small lead, and that left a haunting feeling given their current scoring slump.
Second Period: Video challenge, Varly save the day
The second period was titled toward the Avalanche, who turned the tables. However, it was the Isles’ turn for a little luck: Nikita Zadorov appeared to give Colorado a 1-0 lead with a lethal snapshot through a screen on a great interior passing move by the Avs. But the Islanders were alert to the oddest of offside zone entries preceding the play: The puck was easily 20 feet off the ice as it arched across, and a careful review confirmed the Islanders’ coach’s challenge to wipe the goal off the board.
COL controlled that period, and the Isles are lucky to still be tied. #Isles Metrics Thru 2 via NST— Carey Haber (@habermetrics) January 7, 2020
5v5 Score Adj
36.91% High Danger
46.76% Exp. Goals
50.00% High Danger
47.96% Exp. Goals
Low event game, closer than it looks. pic.twitter.com/WvDKpIefSJ
Some sweet Semyon Varlamov stops also helped keep the game scoreless going into the second intermission. This one: kinda nice...
Third Period: ...a...goal? A GOAL!
The direction of things didn’t change much in the third...except on the scoreboard.
Because finally, it happened. The Islanders broke a scoreless streak just short of 140 minutes when Anders Lee sniped on a rush that followed some great play by unsung forwards. It was a very un-Lee-like goal, on the rush. And the combo that set it up was unusual too.
Michael Dal Colle, Tom Kuhnhackl and Derick Brassard had an effective shift grinding in the Avalanche zone, and Lee was the beneficiary of an insightful cross-ice pass through the neutral zone after he’d come on the ice for Kuhnhackl. Devon Toews had the slightest of touches on the pass, then drove the net ahead of Lee to provide an effective distraction.
As a finishing touch, Brassard caught Lee’s mouthguard during the celebration and generously placed it back in his captain’s yapper.
THAT’S WHAT FRIENDS ARE FOR pic.twitter.com/vEJcMzo9Lp— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) January 7, 2020
That gave the Islanders the 1-0 lead at 6:54, well enough into the period that you could at least start to dream it would be enough, but nowhere near late enough to feel remotely comfortable.
Still, the Islanders stuck to their game and at least made the Avalanche earn every entry and inch of space.
But the Avalanche were handed an excellent opportunity to tie it with seven minutes left thanks to an ugly call on Scott Mayfield for interference. Matt Calvert was driving the net and grabbed hold of Mayfield’s stick, then hit the deck with Mayfield’s stick still in his hand. The corner ref took the bait.
The Islanders started that one off with a clear and killed it pretty convincingly, leaving a little over 5:30 of regulation to go.
That’s when Varlamov, and the shot-blocking infantrymen, and the offensive zone grinders, all did their part.
Varlamov stood tall again, and Jordan Eberle had a goal-saving dive despite being hobbled after Gabriel Landeskog stepped on his foot in the corner. Kuhnhackl had a big block on the second-to-last rush, and Johnny Boychuk blocked a Landeskog attempt as the final seconds ticked down. Nathan MacKinnon had the final try, with both Mayfield and Varlamov going down to make sure there was no daylight.
For Varlamov, on his fifth straight start and coming off another strong game against the high-flying Leafs, it had to be satisfying as he looks to grab the reins.
How Trotz Saw It
“First period was really good. Second period was tougher, they made some changes and loaded up that top line. Maybe the most dangerous line in the league when they’re together. ... I thought our support was much better tonight (offensively). There are a few more levels we can get to, but we managed the puck well against a team that is extremely dangerous.”
[On the challenge that overturned the Avs goal] “If they get that first goal, maybe our outlook is different. They were really clicking.”
Trotz also liked the play of Nick Leddy and Ryan Pulock: “Big assignment tonight, and they did a really good job.”
That said, it’s probably Thomas Greiss in goal next, as the Islanders are in Newark tomorrow night to seek revenge against the Devils.