The result of the final regular season game (we think...for real this time, maybe) at Nassau Coliseum will be a trivial footnote, but the complete performance by the New York Islanders was reassuring for their 2021 outlook given their recent form. The 5-1 win over the New Jersey Devils won’t erase fears that the Isles might be limping into the playoffs, but they did exhibit more of the look of a playoff team.
Brock Nelson scored two goals and Oliver Wahlstrom had two assists. Mathew Barzal and Leo Komarov also had two points, the latter creating opportunities for his offensive wingers through good backchecking, just as Trotz intended.
Ilya Sorokin made 23 saves, including — eventually — some high-quality chances, but the Islanders dominated the first period to set the tone.
The result means the Isles still have a chance to finish in third in the East, so whether they play the Penguins or Capitals is still to be determined.
First Period: That’s more like it
It was all Islanders from the get-go, though they didn’t get anything to show for it until late in the first period. They ended up outshooting the Devils 12-4 in the period, and finally opened a lead 18 minutes in on a pretty two-on-two from Jordan Eberle and Barzal.
Komarov started the play in the Isles zone, and Eberle and Barzal overlapped in the Devils zone to create a shooting opening for Eberle.
Still, Eberle’s shot was vicious, as Mackenzie Blackwood was cheating to the near-side post, yet Eberle still slipped it through the narrow hole between the goalie’s blocker side and the post.
But more refreshing than any of that, the Islanders finally looked organized again. Disciplined. Forechecking well, closing space well, and reading each other. That’s how they look at their best, but it’s been all too rare for the past month. Barry Trotz would still express concern about the first period (more on that later, but “their goalie saw too many pucks”), but it was still evident progress over the bushel of meh they’ve been showing lately.
Second Period: Brock and Ollie
Despite all that, the Devils’ lone goal came with several Islanders checking out or losing their man as the Devils cycled in the Isles zone.
Defenseman Matt Alfred, Lord Tennyson ended up feeding Andreas Johnsson from behind the net, and Johnsson had space to whip a shot upstairs to make it 1-1 just 4:58 into the second period.
The Isles reset though, and four minutes later they were back ahead for good while Will Butcher was in the box.
It was a good game for Wahlstrom, who showed chemistry with J-G Pageau (doesn’t everyone?) and Kyle Palmieri, who likewise had a strong game.
Wahlstrom’s usefulness on the power play was again on display when his heavy one-timer, off a Nick Leddy pass to the left wing, created an easy rebound for Nelson to convert.
Nelson scored his second on another rebound, on his next shift just 3:40 later, when Anthony Beauvillier created a rush with a neutral zone interception. Josh Bailey got the initial shot for the primary assist before Nelson slammed it home to make it 4-1.
Third Period: Sealed, delivered
The Isles basically put things away in a 37-second span early in the third, with Kyle Palmieri scoring on an unusual breakaway and then Mathew Barzal whipping a shot upstairs on a 2-on-1.
Palmieri’s goal was initiated by a sweet backhand lob pass from the neutral zone by Oliver Wahlstrom. Palmieri then lifted defender Kevin Bahl’s stick and accelerated to make a move before using Mackenzie Blackwood as an airbag.
Thirty-seven seconds later, Komarov surprised a Devil in the Isles zone and banked a pass off the sideboards to send Barzal off to the races. Barzal had Eberle as an option, but the winger proved surplus to needs on this rush.
Barzal hanging out in the Toy Department! pic.twitter.com/Z9O0lN9tZw— x - New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) May 9, 2021
Blackwood took a beating, and not just in the goals conceded sense. On Palmieri’s breakaway the ex-Devil ended up crashing into Blackwood, as mentioned.
Soon after, when Palmieri took the puck to the net a few shifts later, there was more pushing from the Devils, then two ganged up on Wahlstrom, and when Palmieri came in to adjudicate, Bahl fell into Blackwood and knocked him flat on his back.
This all prompted Athletic scribe Arthur Staple to ask if the goalie owes Palmieri money afterward — but Palmieri explained Blackwood is used to having him in his crease from “years of practice.”
However it all shook out, it was a good sign to see Palmieri creating havoc and carrying the puck with authority.
As Trotz said in the post-game: “That was the Palmieri I’ve seen as an opposing coach, I love when he plays with a little bit of an edge. He was skating, he was in the battle, I thought he had a lot of detail to his game and he was quick. That’s one of the reasons we got him. When he plays that game, which is more of a playoff-style type of game, he can have an effect.”
After the game Barry Trotz said he was generally pleased with the game in terms of showing progress, and delivering on the way they practiced yesterday, but he went out of his way to voice concern about a lack of traffic in the first period, and lack of follow-through in the middle part of the game.
“That would be the only concerning thing for me, we didn’t stay to our game,” Trotz said without much prompting. “That’s something we said we would do. I thought for the most part a good group of us did, but there’s a few that didn’t.”
So, be on the lookout for short leashes.
The Islanders finish their schedule with a makeup game in Boston on Monday and could pull ahead of them, but the Bruins ultimately control their fate and have a final game against the Capitals, who are already slated for second place.