The New York Islanders closed out the calendar year of 2021 with a textbook win over the Buffalo Sabres, playing the kind of hockey we expect from them despite being severely shorthanded yet again due to covid.
For what it’s worth, the Sabres also were severely shorthanded yet again due to covid and had played the night before, but the Islanders got some offense that they desperately needed as they welcomed back Mathew Barzal and others. We’ll take it; hopefully, it spurs a run.
In the spirit of today being New Year’s Eve, we should take some time to reflect on the previous year. I like to do this in my own life, but we’ll restrict it to the Islanders and hockey in this space.
Though 2021 ends on a bit of a sour note—with the Islanders currently a mile outside of a playoff spot despite entering this season as a sexy Stanley Cup pick—it was a pretty great year for the franchise.
They qualified for the playoffs as the fourth and final seed in the East Division. They took down the no. 1 seed Pittsburgh Penguins despite falling behind 2-1 in the series; they did the same thing against the no. 3 seed Boston Bruins, beating both teams in six games and forcing a final four rematch with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Ryan Pulock saved their bacon in Game 4. And they pushed the eventual champs to seven games despite falling behind 2-0 in Game 6, helped by some overtime heroics from one Anthony Beauvillier.
What a way to close out the Coliseum—Game 6 turned out to be the old, historic building’s final game as the Isles lost to Tampa in Game 7 and then moved to a new building. A beautiful new building, too: UBS Arena at Belmont Park.
But it wasn’t without a few obstacles. Covid caused construction delays, which then caused the arena not to be ready until late November, meaning the Islanders had to start the season with a 13-game road trip. The trip started off okay, but it ended with a thud that started an 11-game winless streak, one that likely sunk the Isles’ 2021-22 season; not to mention, the Islanders set a record for games it took to earn its first building in a new home.
While this season is likely in the toilet, it’s not definitely in the toilet. This team has the capability to rattle off ten straight wins—they have done it a few times in the last few seasons—and doing that would likely put them back in the mix. And if this team gets close to the playoffs, you know that they are going to kick it into high gear. They fit the “hungry” team model, having lost in the conference final the last two seasons.
Here’s hoping 2022 brings even more fortune than the first half of 2021. Thank you for reading us, LHH, even though the heads at SBN ruined our commenting system. Happy New Year.
About last night:
- It was nice to see the Islanders put down a weaker opponent and keep them there. Scoring early and coasting to victory is their hallmark, but it has been missing this season. [LHH]
- Barzal, Kieffer Bellows, Josh Bailey, and Noah Dobson all had multi-point games. [Rapid Recap]
- Barzal was dominant in his return, finishing with a goal, two assists, and eight shots on net. And Bellows has really come on lately. [3 Takeaways]
- It was a good night for Semyon Varlamov, too, as he made 36 saves. [NHL]
- Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Martin, Zach Parise, and Robin Salo all cleared covid protocol and re-entered last night’s lineup. [Isles DTD]
- Overall, a great way to come off a long break. They’ll need a lot more nights like that to have a chance at making the playoffs. [Newsday]
- Ahead of last night’s game, the Islanders placed Kyle Palmieri on injured reserve. He is no guarantee to return to the lineup when he is 100%, either. [Newsday]
- More on Barzal and Bellows looking great lately and the impending internal competition for playing time among the forwards. [Kurz @ The Athletic]
- This Day in Isles History: Barry Trotz earns his 783rd win, moving him past Al Arbour and into fourth place all-time (2018).
Last night’s NHL scores include the Florida Panthers hanging nine (9!) goals on the Lightning and the Carolina Hurricanes blanking the Montreal Canadiens. Also, the Philadelphia Flyers lost in overtime to the San Jose Sharks, but they extended their point streak to seven games—a streak that started immediately after a streak of losing ten straight in regulation.
- The Minnesota Wild gave contract extensions to everyone behind the bench, including head coach Dean Evason. [NHL]
- In 2021, we learned that the crowd is almost essential to watching a hockey game (Exhibit A above in Beauvillier’s goal). Here’s Justin Bourne’s ode to the MVP of 2021: the hockey fan. [Sportsnet]