The New York Islanders have finally won at their long-awaited arena at Belmont Park.
It took too long, and way too many injuries and mishaps and COVID outages, but they finally earned two points on home ice, 23 games into the season on Dec. 11, 2021.
They did it with mostly their full lineup, as Casey Cizikas and Brock Nelson returned, leaving only Ryan Pulock — hardly an “only” in impact — as the lone missing regular. (Anthony Beauvillier and Matt Martin were scratched along with Sebastian Aho, but those were coach’s decisions.)
The 4-2 win over the New Jersey Devils wasn’t a cakewalk but it wasn’t a lucky or desperation win either. Finally, at long last, the Isles had their gang back together and looked in many ways like Bary Trotz intends them to look. They are so deep in a standings hole that there’s no telling how much magic and continued “normalcy” would be required for them to climb back.
But at least for one night, and well overdue, they gave home fans what they thought they were signing up for.
There was a sense of tables turned a few hours before the game, as the Islanders got their last player back from COVID (Cizikas) and a key injured player (Nelson) back, while the Devils learned that they were losing Nico Hischier and Ryan Graves to COVID protocol. Been there.
First Period: Dobson’s OK
The first was a pretty fine and even period, marked by an early incident and some late goals that put the Isles behind, once again.
But before the goals, just 6:30 into the game, Mason Geertsen checked Noah Dobson with what was immediately declared an illegal hit to the head...but only a two-minute minor for the offense.
With Dobson down, Zdeno Chara jumped in — as has been his recent role — to exact some frontier justice with Geertsen. The fight was an uneventful stalemate, but at least Chara put the fear of Bossy into Geertsen, based on the clinging response.
The fight, the instigator and the automatic misconduct meant Chara was in the box for 17 minutes. Dobson returned later in the period after evaluation, and that would turn out to be pretty important.
Jesper Bratt opened scoring with his eighth goal of the season at 17:01. But Thomas Tatar took a crosscheck penalty against Mathew Barzal just 37 seconds later, and the oddly hot (but still 28th-ranked) Islanders power play needed only seven seconds to convert. The Isles won the faceoff, switched sides to Barzal, who dropped back to Dobson for a one-timer that went in upstairs.
Alas, nothing is easy this year. Jack Hughes scored 40 seconds later to give the Devils a 2-1 lead heading into the first intermission.
2nd Period: Revenge of the Former Devils
Zach Parise has scored in an Islanders uniform.
If that’s happened, you know things have changed. It only took him 23 games and over 36 snakebitten shots, but Parise finally got on the board, and it was huge.
But first, Andy Greene scored eight minutes into the second period to tie it at 2-2.
Parise’s goal came a full eight minutes later, shorthanded late in the period, on a breakaway where surely most of us assumed he’d be robbed or struck by lightning or something. It was a beautiful setup from J-G Pageau, who spun at center ice after a clear and backhanded a pass to space, where Parise took the rolling puck in stride.
For Parise to convert was cathartic in so many ways, both for him and for the club whose changing fortune it seemed to foreshadow:
Parise nets his first and it's smiles and back slapping all around pic.twitter.com/DkggD1oaWu— Isles on MSG+ (@IslesMSGN) December 12, 2021
this moment with Barry... you know how badly Zach wanted this one pic.twitter.com/MR4KvVPtFy— Isles on MSG+ (@IslesMSGN) December 12, 2021
Third Period: Pageau Ices It
I had to remind myself several times that the Islanders were only up by one goal, and recent form would say they’ll find away to blow it. But for some reason, the flow of the game felt like this would finally be their night.
Things got more comfortable when Oliver Wahlstrom stepped up to intercept a Hughes drop pass along the neutral zone boards. He gained the zone and fed back to Pageau for a one-timer from the top of the slot. Pageau made no doubt, giving the Isles a 4-2 lead at 9:37.
The Devils never threatened too much after that, and Ilya Sorokin continued his sure-handed night. New Jersey pulled their rookie goalie for a sixth attacker with over four minutes to go, and the Isles had several long-range shots at the net, notably Anders Lee’s shot that hit the post and was ignorantly called for icing. (Seeing their mistake, the officials had a neutral zone faceoff that brought Akira Schmid back into the net.)
Also notable: Parise was set up perfectly through the neutral zone but his shot at the gaping empty net was tipped and missed. Of course.
No matter. No empty-net insurance goal was forthcoming, but the Islanders finally broke the ice in UBS Arena at Belmont Park.
It’s about time.
Quote of the Night
“They had to wait 30 years for this building and three weeks after it opened...”
>>Brendan Burke on the Isles’ first win at Belmont Park
The Islanders have an extra day in between games before they head to Detroit to take on the Red Wings Tuesday night.