Semyon Varlamov made 30 saves for his second consecutive shutout of the Rangers, an effort that set the stage for the Islanders fourth line’s two quick third-period goals to seal a 2-0 win.
The win pushes the Islanders two points ahead of the three-way tie at the bottom of the division and one point ahead of Pittsburgh to enter fourth place.
First Period: Just stretching out our yawning muscles
The opening period was a slog. An early Michael Dal Colle penalty disrupted the rotation and required a penalty kill just 1:21 into the game. After that succeeded, it was very uneventful though the Rangers’ possession had the better share of just-might-develop looks.
The Islanders generated even less until late in the period, when they mounted some sustained pressure before closing out a 0-0 period just as Trotzian Nature intended.
Second Period: Little bit loose
The second period had far more action, likely to both coaches’ chagrin.
One highlight: Jordan Eberle undressed Adam Fox and then rang the post loud. The opposite angle made it look like Igor Shesterkin got a shoulder on it first.
Third Period: Varly sets stage for Fourth-Line Gut Punch
Any shutout is just a couple of inches away from being a three-goal implosion, but Varlamov was absolutely on his game, sharp, steady all night. And his best moments would be one half of a [Insert Sponsor Here] Turning Point of the Game.
The exchanges continued early in the third, with the teams trading odd-man rushes requiring good saves from each goalie — Igor Shesterkin having to stop a cross-slot chance, and Varlamov twice having to stare down a Rangers shooter.
The most impressive was this, with Artemi Panarin on an uncontested breakaway:
Varlamov stones Panarin on the breakaway pic.twitter.com/wF3rrW8fhu— Rob Taub (@RTaub_) February 9, 2021
It felt like just minutes later, but it was actually at 11:15, when the fourth line broke the seal with some good net-crashing. A point shot by Adam Pelech went through a Casey Cizikas screen, Matt Martin had a hand on the rebound shovel, and then Casey Cizikas finished in a scramble of bodies.
If that was a stunner for the host team, on their next shift the fourth line delivered the knockout blow: Mathew Barzal dumped as part of a change, Cal Clutterbuck retrieved and dished from the corner, and Matt Martin finished from the top of the crease.
Maybe its the psychological blow of having 50 minutes of scoreless hockey until the “Identity Line” hits you with a one-two, but after that it felt like the rest of the game was a formality. The Rangers got some sustained possession time after they pulled Shesterkin and Adam Pelech was sent off for a puck over the glass, but that was it.
A few decent looks followed, but Varlamov was not going to let one in on this night.
Casey Cizikas: "We're playing well right now and we're doing our jobs... We're playing hard and giving it everything we have. The way that every line goes out there and plays the way their strengths work for them, that's something we build off of." #Isles— Joe Pantorno (@JoePantorno) February 9, 2021
Varlamov on those stops vs. Panarin, Zibanejad: "When you face these shots against the biggest players in the league and you make the save, of course, it gives you a boost during the game. You want to make that save. I thought that was a key save in this game, we needed those."— Joe Pantorno (@JoePantorno) February 9, 2021
- It’s been a topic, Barzal stoking his feisty competitive fire while retaining the discipline needed to keep him out of the box. He was on that line tonight with a few rivalry run-ins, but kept his cool.
- After continuing the lines from last game, another mid-game top-six remix saw the reunion of Eberle, Barzal and Anders Lee, which resulted in good pressure for a bit. I suspect that is where things will ultimately head again, but we’ll probably see occasional shakeups to “keep things fresh.” Still, no Dal Colle-Eberle connection tonight.
- Speaking of lines, people probably make too much of the fourth line — at opposite ends of the hockey philosophy spectrum — but in a year when it’s been struggle to see more than one line go on any night, it’s sure nice to notch a W that is on their shoulders (and Varly’s). Plus, confidence never hurts.
It was a milestone win for Barry Trotz (pulling ahead of Ken Hitchcock for third-most regular season wins ever), but he doesn’t care.
#Isles Barry Trotz, asked about win No. 850, good for third place all time in the NHL: "We're on to Pittsburgh." Isles host Pens Thursday night.— Andrew Gross (@AGrossNewsday) February 9, 2021
God-willing and the Covid don’t rise, the Islanders are home to the Penguins on Thursday. They’re all “four-point games” this season, but that one could have another big standings swing.