The Islanders set the tone early in this game with a fantastic first period, featuring a snipe from Mathew Barzal and a great backhand goal from Jordan Eberle. That two goal lead would be too much for the Devils to overcome, despite a strong effort by them in the second period where they cut the lead in half off a clunker goal on Semyon Varlamov’s part. Varlamov was good otherwise when he needed to be, though, and the Islanders put the game away in the third with two power play tallies.
The Islanders were at full strength tonight, as Josh Bailey was removed from the NHL COVID list shortly before game time. However, the Devils were not - goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood was put on the COVID list, and so instead the Isles were up against Scott Wedgewood, whose last NHL start was over two years ago. Just a reminder of how weird this NHL season is and how important it is to keep your goalies healthy!
The first period was a bit more open than the Isles typically like, but it worked to their favor. Varlamov stopped Pavel Zacha and Nikita Gusev shots early, and Brock Nelson set up Anthony Beauvillier on a 2 on 1, but Beau hesitated to get the shot off and Wedgewood made the save.
Not even 5 minutes in, though, Mat Barzal would score on a fantastic wrist shot, sniping the puck past Wedgewood, who barely reacted until the shot was already past him.
Barzal was set up by Bailey and Noah Dobson and carried the puck up ice to score. The first period was a fantastic one for Barzal, doing the kinds of things we want to see from him consistently and making it look easy as always.
The Jack Hughes line was the center of most of the Devils’ offensive pressure, and it had some dangerous looks early, but the Isles were able to limit what Hughes could do during the game.
Then, Barzal made a fantastic play in the defensive zone, breaking up a pass from Michael McLeod and passing the puck up to Anders Lee, who was able to push it over to Eberle, who scored a fantastic backhander for his first goal of the season.
EBERLE WITH BACKHAND! pic.twitter.com/tFCsIKP3I9— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) January 22, 2021
That would just about close down the period, with the Isles dominating and up 2-0.
The broadcast then of course made mention of Varlamov’s shutout streak at the start of the period, which was broken just 2 minutes and 10 seconds later by a Nathan Bastian shot that Varlamov likely should have had. Ah well, Varlamov will have to settle for a massive 142:10 shutout streak, the eighth longest to start an NHL season.
The Devils put on basically all of the pressure during the second period, drawing a power play when Brock Nelson went off for holding. However, Josh Bailey was able to generate a shorthanded chance, but Wedgewood made the save and the Isles killed the penalty.
Lee and Barzal had a 2 on 1, but Lee hit the post. Matt Martin drew a hooking penalty, and the bad version of the Islanders power play came out, struggling to get any zone time at all.
Towards the end of the period, Nelson and PK Subban collided as Nelson was falling down. Nelson got up and was bleeding, and on replay it looked like the impact caused his visor to cut him. He left the game, but was back for the third.
Nelson returned with new stitches above his eyebrow, and the Islanders were much more alert this period, as Scott Mayfield and Anthony Beauvillier both hit the post. The Islanders drew a power play when Travis Zajac went off for hooking, which quickly led to this:
make that TWO for Eberle! pic.twitter.com/FbbSpedYC4— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) January 22, 2021
Noah Dobson’s shot went wide off the boards and bounced right to Eberle, who had plenty of time to shoot the puck into an open net as Wedgewood struggled to track the puck. It was Eberle’s second goal of the game and Dobson’s second assist, a strong outing for Dobson, who has shown a ton of talent and promise in his first four games as a regular lineup fixture.
The Islanders were once again on the power play just a few minutes later when the Devils were called for too many men on the ice, and Nelson looked just fine after his injury with a great tip on a Nick Leddy shot from the point to make it 4-1.
From there, the Islanders did their best to clamp down and just maintain their three goal lead, and thought the Devils pushed, they couldn’t get another goal. As time was running out, Matt Tennyson hit Casey Cizikas and drew some attention from Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin, so that’ll be something to watch for next game!
- I still don’t really know what to make of the third line. I think I’ve seen enough of Ross Johnston for now, but I’m not sure that he’s done anything that will get Trotz to take him out of the lineup. Given the condensed season, that line can’t be as sheltered as it is forever...
- When Barzal is on his game, he’s looked like he’s on another level. If he can be that kind of player consistently, he can really be the elite 1C the Isles need him to be.
- Despite one bad goal, Varlamov has been fantastic so far to start the season. That combined with Ilya Sorokin’s less than ideal NHL debut is going to make it tempting to keep riding Varly, but Sorokin needs games and the Islanders need two capable goalies. It might not be the worst idea in the world to let Sorokin play on Sunday.
Next, the Islanders will travel to New Jersey for Sunday’s matchup at the Prudential Center at 7pm. I’m sure Martin and Clutterbuck have Tennyson’s number circled for the rematch.