The New York Islanders returned to competitive hockey with a methodical 2-1 victory over their traditional rival New York Rangers in Toronto.
[Game Sum | Event Sum | NHL game page]
The first period was sloppy all around, marked by some early Rangers penalties (and a brief, wasted Islanders 5-on-3), a fight between Johnny Boychuk and weasel Lemieux. The Rangers had the balance of play and shots, but it was a messy period for both sides. As one would expect.
The second period was controlled play, just like Barry likes it, and the lone goal came from Anthony Beauvillier midway through against Rangers starter Igor Shesterkin. Starting goalie Semyon Varlamov stayed in net for the entire period, and he made some highlight reel rebound saves late in the period to preserve the Islanders’ lead.
The third was much the same, though Devon Toews gave the Islanders an insurance goal when he jumped ahead to take an airborne pass from Derick Brassard, sweetly drawing Henrik Lundqvist out and placing it inside the far post.
That insurance goal proved important, as the Rangers got one back a minute later, giving themselves three minutes to try to tie.
But that’s when the Islanders really went into a controlled, smothering, come-at-us approach, including when Lundqvist was pulled for a sixth attacker. The Islanders took no risks for empty-net chances, but instead burned and burned the clock. A couple of icings didn’t hurt, the Islanders handled the ensuing faceoffs.
‘Tactical game from the Islanders, frustrating the Rangers, that’s what they do’
That’s a Keith Jones quote from NBC, and Patrick Sharp added that the Rangers “ran into a Barry Trotz team, that’s what happens.”
All of which is not to take undue confidence from a single exhibition game after a four-month layoff, but rather to reiterate: We know what Trotz wants this team to do. They know how to do it. If they stick to it and get a little luck, it may take them through a series (or two?) before they get out-talented or out-lucked.
The Islanders lineup is basically set, including in goal I reckon, but they will have games on consecutive days next week so the extras and second goalie may play a role. To that end:
- Casey Cizikas looked great. He seems healthy, fit, no concerns about the injury that had him on the shelf when the world went pandemic. That makes a big difference.
- Ross Johnston was the 13th forward and got his fair share of minutes (9:26), and looked good. He’s worked on his game a long time and earned Trotz’s attention this year, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him somewhere in the Panthers series. Not for the fighting capacity, but for the ability to use his size, grind and keep it simple without making poor puck decisions.
- The blueline minutes were very balanced, even with Boychuk’s fighting major, and I’m not sure which of the seven defensemen will sit out. Money I guess is on Noah Dobson as the rookie and then Andy Greene as the old vet. Maybe Dobson replaces Greene on one of the the back-to-backs? As with the decision in goal, Trotz has the luxury of many good choices. You could definitely argue one of the Boychuk-Nick Leddy pair, particularly the elder, but I imagine they’re safe.
- I don’t think anyone really thought Thomas Greiss was in pole position to start the playoffs, but tonight’s lineup — 40 minutes for Varlamov to start, 20 for Greiss to wrap up — and the scoresheet probably provides the confirmation that Varlamov will be the guy.
#Isles Individual 5 on 5 pic.twitter.com/STj4UWfco1— Bryan Bastin (@projpatsummitt) July 30, 2020
No fans, generic ice, tarps covering all the seats, photographers wearing surgeon masks in the corners? Maybe it’s the novelty and the excitement of seeing live Islanders players flying around in blue and orange jerseys again, but it didn’t feel quite as sterile as I expected.
Maybe like an important international game that you’re watching on satellite feed at an odd hour of the day due to time difference? Yeah, kind of like that. Those noon games are going to be very weird.
So that’s that. Good to see you all “back” in the game thread and gameday chatter. Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m. EDT, it starts for real.