The New York Islanders scored first in tonight’s road game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, but they didn’t score last. They led 1-0, fell behind 2-1, tied it, and lost in overtime what was a penalty-filled affair through the first two periods.
New York looked like their old selves for some stretches of tonight’s game, but they haven’t yet found their groove. They fell to 1-2-1 on the season, earning only their third point through their first four games.
The Islanders got back their captain, Anders Lee, who missed Tuesday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks with a non-COVID-19 illness. But the Isles could not dress what they intend to be their full game roster because they lost their third line center.
It appears that Jean-Gabriel Pageau caught the same stomach bug that kept Lee out of the lineup. Kieffer Bellows remained in the lineup, skating as the left wing on the third line with Zach Parise sliding over to center. Barry Trotz said that Parise has played center before, but James Nichols couldn’t find any evidence of that.
Ilya Sorokin started for the Islanders, while Elvis Merzlikins did the same for the Blue Jackets.
Columbus controlled the early run of play, and during some of the little time that the Islanders had spent in the offensive zone in the first half of the period, Kyle Palmieri was called for goalie interference. Jakub Voracek set up Patrik Laine with a beautiful cross-ice pass, and if Laine hit the net, he would have scored. But he put it wide, and the Isles killed off that penalty.
The kill helped New York build a little momentum; to wit, the top line, along with Adam Pelech and Scott Mayfield, circled the net like sharks, unable to beat Merzlinkis. Oliver Wahlstrom again made a difference in the offensive zone, as well.
But Wahlstrom killed a bit of that goodwill by tripping up Adam Boqvist on the backcheck. Fortunately, the Islanders canceled that man advantage, too. The first line hopped over the boards on the next shift after the kill and Mathew Barzal drew a penalty on Laine.
Barzal and the first power play unit created one dangerous chance. The Isles’ skilled center flung the puck from the boards along the goal line toward Lee battling in front of Merzlinkis, but the puck went off the Jacket defender’s stick and nearly beat his own goalie. The second unit didn’t do much, and Sorokin ended the period making nice saves on Yegor Chinakhov on 18-year-old Cole Sillinger, son of one-time Islander (and one-time [INSERT TEAM HERE]) Mike Sillinger.
Just over a minute into the second period, Barzal drew a penalty for the second time, this time a cross-check by new Blue Jacket and Ohio native Sean Kuraly, formerly of the Boston Bruins that the Islanders eliminated back in June. This power play was more effective than their previous attempt with two shots-on-goal, but still, no goals.
Not long after that power play ended, the Islanders went back on the kill. Casey Cizikas was called for hooking, the Islanders’ second offensive zone penalty. The kill was not so smooth—definitely missing Pageau—but Sorokin came up big again, making another save on Chinakhov. Palmieri having taken a shift on the penalty kill, Wahlstrom took a spin next to Barzal and Lee on the next shift.
Just past the midway point of the frame, the Islanders got on the board thanks to Mayfield. The Islanders’ second-tallest defenseman grabbed a 50/50 puck off the half wall, skated to some open ice, and backhanded it toward the net. His shot ticked off the stick of Kuraly and through the five-hole of Merzlinkis to give the Islanders a 1-0 lead.
Mayfield's first of the season! pic.twitter.com/IR4j3WoAGu— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) October 22, 2021
The Islanders got their third power play of the game when Voracek wedged the shaft of his stick between Palmieri’s thighs and then complained that Palmieri dove. Anthony Beauvillier had a decent one-time chance, but Merzlikins stoned him.
Back to the penalty kill the Isles went again when Cizikas got whistled for high-sticking, and this time, they couldn’t hold them off. Zach Werenski snapped the puck from the blue line, and both Oliver Bjorkstrand and Boone Jenner deflected it over Sorokin, with the latter getting credit for it.
New York lagged on the next shift—maybe they all have the stomach bug—and just 33 seconds after letting Columbus tie did they allow Sillinger to record his first NHL goal easily, spoiling what was otherwise a pretty good period.
Both teams started slowly and methodically, but Barzal, who was everywhere tonight, knotted the score at 2-2.
On the ice with Palmieri and Matt Martin, Barzal and Noah Dobson showed their growing chemistry, and Dobson demonstrated his growing confidence. Dobson pinched down the left side and drove toward the net, creating chaos in the crease with Martin battling. As the chaos unfolded, Dobson skated behind the net and around to the other side, taking the puck and getting it to Barzal. Andy Greene battled away a would-be defender, allowing Barzal to take his time and pick his corner with a snapshot, his eighth shot of the game.
Barzal’s ninth shot came off a fast-moving two-on-one with Josh Bailey. Barzal kept the puck and fired, but Merzlikins batted it away. On a later shift in the period, Mayfield caught the Jackets in a change and fed Lee cheating at the blue line for a quick chance, but Merzlikins denied that too.
The Isles and Jackets didn’t do much else of note, instead starting to play to conserve the point, and to overtime we went.
Lee and Barzal had a chance going against a stickless Sillinger, but they couldn’t get anything past Merzlikins. Back the other way, Laine found a little open ice and didn’t miss with his laser of a shot. Only one point for the Isles.
Notes and Thoughts
- Barzal is hitting his peak. I’m calling my shot. He is playing like a man possessed, like a guy that’s used to the NHL—like a guy that got so close to a Stanley Cup that he could taste the silver in the chalice.
- Everyone else, though, not so much, at least as far as the skaters are concerned. Between Lee on Tuesday and Pageau tonight, I would have to guess that there’s an illness running through the locker room. That is really the only explanation for how sluggish they have looked for the majority of their first four games.
- But it’s still early in the season; there’s plenty of time to get on track. Saturday’s game should be one way to do it. It would be prudent to get two points there before Sunday’s much tougher opponent on a back-to-back.
The Islanders’ season-opening journey continues Saturday night in Glendale. The Arizona Coyotes will play host to the Isles at 9:00 p.m. ET. Andrew Ladd hat trick incoming.