The New York Islanders returned from their COVID break still lacking a full lineup, albeit with some welcome faces back, and still experiencing the same struggle to score.
There was one significant change though: For the first time in nine tries and the first time in five games at UBS Arena, the Islanders salvaged a point. An actual standings point! They ultimately lost to the San Jose Sharks, 2-1 in overtime, but that’s the kind of loss that represents progress, and not just the moral kind.
The headlines will still say “losing streak” — ‘cause that point is just for losers, I hear — but the reality of Gary Bettman’s The People Demand A Winner NHL is that standings points matter, including the ones you get for being tied in regulation before the shinny bonus round begins.
So this outcome isn’t ideal, of course. But considering they only managed one goal yet again, the point is most welcome. The eight-game regulation losing streak is over; the winless streak now reaches nine.
First Period: A lead! An early lead!
At long last, the Islanders got the start they’ve been craving. They came out with jump, and Mathew Barzal gave the Islanders an all-too-rare lead, on first shot of the game just 64 seconds in. Finally, a break for the Isles. Barzal’s celebration with Anders Lee and his cruise through the high-five line appeared to betray an expression of, “See? Remember that good things CAN happen to us too!”
Soon afterward, the Sharks lost Jonah Gadjovich on a strange play, his only shift of the game. The Sharks forward came out to block a Noah Dobson shot and the shot itself did not appear to be an issue. But maybe as he skidded to a stop after the block, something in his left leg gave. He didn’t show any pain until he tried to get up and immediately favored the leg, ultimately requiring a stoppage and to be helped off the ice.
Before play stopped for the Gadjovich injury, the Sharks mounted a counter-attack that required a big Ilya Sorokin save, which would become a theme for much of the night.
But before the Islanders came to routinely rely on Sorokin, they appeared to be continuing their groove to start the game, especially with the line of Zach Parise, J-G Pageau and Kyle Palmieri. Alas, a too many men penalty at 7:09 stopped that momentum and ultimately led to a tie game.
The Sharks worked the puck well but didn’t actually score during the power play; however, Nick Bonino completed a great tic-tac-toe-tally just as the two minutes expired, with Anders Lee still emerging from the box. That made it 1-1 at 9:10, the last goal until over 50 minutes later in overtime.
Lee had one of the best moments to change that, making a move on Brent Burns from the corner in the final minute, and zipping a quick backhand off the crossbar. Adin Hill had no idea that it was coming nor where it went.
Second Period: Sorokin and PK Show
No goals in the second period, and that was largely thanks to Ilya Sorokin and an exhausting couple of penalty kills, which of course were also keyed by Sorokin. Dobson and Anthony Beauvillier were among the noteworthy performers on the PK, too. The Sharks were great at keeping the puck in even when the Isles had decent chances to clear. It was frustrating to watch, but also sympathy-inducing, if that makes sense? The clears weren’t going their way, but the shot blocks and big saves were.
I lost track of how many Sharks had really good looks on Sorokin, but a point-blank stop of Timo Meier moving across the low slot may have been the best.
Frustratingly, and just like the call in the first period, both penalties were avoidable. J-G Pageau was sent off for goalie interference after crashing on top of Hill at 7:02, and Zach Parise was sent off for delay of game when his lob from high in the defensive zone ended up landing juuuust over the glass in the Sharks zone. Parise was a little rushed after Sorokin had gloved a puck but kept it in play.
Third Period: Hanging on till boredom sets in
Man, Grant Hutton took some bumps. The rookie who is too old to be Calder eligible had a tough bounce as the puck hopped over his stick, leading to a partial breakaway for Kevin Lebanc. But Hutton did really well to keep up with Lebanc, harass but not hook nor hold him, and keep him from getting a quality shot off. In doing all that, though, Hutton crashed into the post and boards and may have taken Lebanc skates to the inner thigh; Hutton went off immediately for assessment but was back by the next shift.
...and on that shift, Hutton took a shot block to a painful area.
The Isles weren’t getting a lot of good looks, and the Sharks were mounting better waves of pressure, but at least the Isles were covering dangerous areas and picking up rebounds well. One of those occasions led to a decent rush by Oliver Wahlstrom, who did well to transit the neutral zone and create space to get off his dangerous wrist shot through some legs. Hill saw it all the way though, for an easy glove save.
Soon after that, Barzal had a solo look from the right wing circle after a turnover, but Hill came out well to cut off the angle.
A little while after Meier and Adam Pelech had a scary collision, Sorokin made a great stop through traffic, and a prone Meier basically tried to shove the puck in with his glove and then by kicking at it, against Sorokin’s pad. He’s lucky that didn’t instigate a ruckus.
With seven minutes or so left in regulation, things slowed down to very conservative clears, dumps and changes by both teams. There were certainly some looks that could’ve ended up as unexpected goals, but nothing too dangerous.
A Bronx-esque cheer rang out at the end of regulation as the Isles secured their first point at Belmont and ended the eight-game pointless streak. It didn’t sound very sarcastic though; this team has been through a ton and the survivors are still clearly not in full fitness after COVID and closure time off.
The Isles started overtime well, winning the opening faceoff and taking back to their own zone to load up. It was an okay shift by Anthony Beauvillier and Pageau, but Beauvillier cheated the wrong way as Pageau was being checked hard along the left wing boards, allowing a 2-on-1 the other way. I can’t say I totally blame Beauvillier — the team is desperate for goals and standings points — but you could see it developing as soon as he made his coin-flip decision.
The lone man back, Adam Pelech made a nice play on the initial attempt, but Erik Karlsson was there for the easy finish and game winner with Pelech and Sorokin past the crease.
- First game without Casey Cizikas. Andy Andreoff did not look out of place in his spot between Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck, who brought the kind of energy you’d expect them to have brought while half the regulars were out of the lineup.
- The Isles did not receive a single power play in this game and I can’t say I minded because 1) their own penalties were all must-calls, and 2) their power play stinks.
- The old, old gang was back together as Barzal was rejoined by COVID returners Lee and Josh Bailey. Lee definitely had his moments; Bailey still looked a step off like he has looked much of this season. Barzal, one of the few Islanders to pose an actual threat throughout the losing streak, kept doing that.
- Sebastian Aho does not look as confident as he did in prior appearances before his lengthy time as an unused spare. I’m not saying he was a definitely known and better quantity before and Trotz’s lack of confidence in his game ruined a good thing, but it could be a factor. I think he had fundamental safety down during his first appearances back in yonder times, but during this stretch he looks like he’s balancing trying to do something to get noticed with doing the safe-and-boring things that are necessary to earn Trotzian trust. I am of course inferring based on what little observation we’ve been able to get thus far.
The Islanders play Saturday in Detroit, where Nick Leddy’s Red Wings are far from the easy out they once were.