Last night, the New York Islanders lost to an ECHL goalie and the Buffalo Sabres in regulation after blowing a two-goal lead. Okay, the Michael Houser story is an inspiring one. The Islanders came off two clinical wins against the New York Rangers, the second of which clinched them a playoff spot. Okay. Fine. It happens. Don’t let it happen again and beat the Sabres the next night. Right?
Facing Houser, who played in both halves of the back-to-back, the Islanders started strong and took 21 shots in the first period, but scored only once after conceding the first goal. The Islanders had the next two goals in the second period but did not play well in their own zone and allowed Anders Bjork to get one back for Buffalo.
It was the same story in the third period with weak plays in the defensive zone and Bjork tied it to send it to overtime. After doing nothing in overtime, they could not beat Houser in the shootout. But Bjork, in his first career shootout attempt, put one past Sorokin and gave the Sabres the win.
The Islanders took only one of four possible points—four points that they absolutely should have had—from this two-game set against the Sabres and pissed away what little chance they had left at the East Division title. Home ice advantage seems like a long shot at this point, too. Benching Mathew Barzal seemingly for internal disciplinary reasons did not send the message that Barry Trotz intended to send.
Barzal, Matt Martin, and Leo Komarov exited the lineup, and Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Michael Dal Colle, and Ross Johnston returned. Pageau slid back between Kyle Palmieri and Oliver Wahlstrom while Dal Colle and Travis Zajac moved up to play with Jordan Eberle. Ilya Sorokin started the second half of the back-to-back. Trotz did not change up anyone on defense, I believe because he wanted to give them a chance to redeem themselves from the previous night.
The story we heard was that Trotz was going to rest some guys ahead of the playoffs. It makes sense. Plenty of coaches do it, and if guys are banged up, there is no reason to send them out there.
But then, Anthony Beauvillier said this in the post-game:
Beauvillier on Barzal being scratched: ". It’s not what you want to see but it’s part of the game, part of the business. Pretty much all I can say right now." #Isles— Arthur Staple (@StapeAthletic) May 5, 2021
And Trotz said this:
Trotz on sitting Barzal out: "Mat is a good pro, he’s going to be a big part of what we’re doing. Just want to get him in the right place, feeling good so he’s a good player for us in the playoffs." #Isles— Arthur Staple (@StapeAthletic) May 5, 2021
So, it seems like a message may have been sent, both to Barzal and the team. It’s tough to tell for sure, but it smells a bit like there was more than just rest to Barzal’s visit to the press box. Butch Goring certainly thought it was a message.
First Period: Pretty Good
The Islanders controlled the puck for most of the period and had fired fifteen shots-on-goal through the first fifteen minutes. But the Sabres recorded the first goal. A fluky bounce off the glass popped out to Andy Greene in the Isles’ zone. Before Greene realized it, Drake Caggiula poked it away to Jeff Skinner, who fed Cody Eakin cross-ice for the goal.
26 seconds later, Beauvillier evened the score. Brock Nelson took a pass from Ryan Pulock and fed diagonally Josh Bailey, who pushed it back to Beauvillier for the tap-in.
The Islanders ended the period on a power play, unable to convert on the chance given when Victor Olofsson held up Travis Zajac.
Second Period: Pretty Good, Again
The Islanders didn’t score on the remaining seconds of the power play and didn’t dominate quite as much as they did in the first. But they notched a couple of goals to take a two-goal lead.
Ryan Pulock blasted a one-timer from the point that came to him by way of Cal Clutterbuck and, before him, Ross Johnston crushing Henrik Samuelsson into the boards. The Isles took the lead.
Pulock gives us the lead! pic.twitter.com/TuY31piZfU— x - New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) May 5, 2021
Eberle received a slashing minor but the Islanders’ penalty kill stood tall and even earned a shortie. With four seconds left, Clutterbuck roofed a shorthanded breakaway over Houser for a two-goal lead. Things were looking up.
Things we love to see:— x - New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) May 5, 2021
⚪️ Short-handed goals
⚪️ Breakaway goals
⚪️ Toy-department Goals
ALL OF THE ABOVE pic.twitter.com/ZOmNIoGERX
But before the period ended, Bjork pulled the Sabres within one. Colin Miller fired a shot from the blue line and Nelson failed to lock off Bjork, who tipped the puck past Sorokin. This goal, much like the goals that brought the Sabres back to life last night, seemed inevitable with the sloppy defensive zone coverage the Islanders put out.
Third Period: Come On, Dude
So, you know where this is going, right? The Islanders, to their credit, pushed play against the Sabres’ weak defense all night. They finished the night with 48 shots-on-goal, though many came from the perimeter.
What they failed to do was play defense, which is what they are supposed to be able to do. And it culminated in another weak play that allowed Bjork to keep the zone and then have plenty of room to shoot from the half wall and tie the game.
The Islanders did try to win it in regulation but came up empty.
The Sabres had the puck most of the time, but neither team did much of anything in overtime. The only registered shot-on-goal was when Nick Leddy did it himself but could not beat Houser.
In the shootout, Houser stopped all three of Eberle, Beauvillier, and Wahlstrom. On the other end, Bjork caught Sorokin deep in his net and snapped the game-winner.
Notes and Thoughts
- I mean, at this point, sit all the regulars. Keep them fresh for the playoffs. I don’t think the division title is a mathematical impossibility yet, but it is about to be. Home-ice advantage would require a small miracle, too.
- The Isles have been pretty rough since the beginning of April; the only games in which they have looked good the whole time have come against the Rangers. They have won only four games in regulation. Their underlying numbers, which all season had been the best in the division and among the best in the league, have slipped.
- So as you might have gathered by now, I am a bit worried about getting waxed in the first round. As always, I’d love to be proven wrong. But that is seeming less and less likely by the game.
- One bright spot: Johnston played pretty well.
The Islanders will play their final two home games of the regular season against the New Jersey Devils on Thursday and Saturday, both 7:00 p.m. starts. Looking forward to them.