The New York Islanders remain undefeated in January and haven’t lost since Dec. 20.
Sure, they’ve only played two games in 2022, and just three games since that December loss to Vegas, but we’ll take it.
The Isles returned from a 12-game postponement-fueled break with a 3-2 win over the New Jersey Devils. Mathew Barzal’s goal at 15:07 of the third period was the difference.
They’ve now won three games in a row and have points from 10 of their last 12 games. But they remain 16 points behind second wild card holder Boston, who won again tonight for their fourth in a row.
In addition to Barry Trotz being out in COVID Protocol and Ryan Pulock having that and his injury, the Islanders were without J-G Pageau and Sebastian Aho — both for their partners delivering babies today!
That left an energetic third line of Zach Parise and Kieffer Bellows on either side of Austin Czarnik, who continues to do little things that are surely building trust from the coaches and may keep him around.
Ross Johnston was in on the fourth line, while Matt Martin and Kyle Palmieri sat.
Ilya Sorokin drew the first start after the 12-day break, and he was sharp enough but Butch Goring observed, correctly I think, that he was a little deep in his net at times, including on both goals against.
First Period: Pond hockey light
The first period was a pretty wide-open affair, with lots of fast transitions through the neutral zone and leaky gap coverage on both sides. Forwards broke in with speed, found lanes and peppered the goalies. Each team was credited with 14 shots.
But the opening goal was a should-be-harmless play. Yegor Sharangovich broke through the neutral zone with speed, but he was well marked by Scott Mayfield, who conceded a shot but did not screen. Still, the shot handcuffed Ilya Sorokin and caromed in off his pad on the near post to give the Devils a 1-0 lead at 9:43.
Before all that, the Islanders had two breakaways, Casey Cizikas hitting the outside of the post and Anthony Beauvillier getting angled off for a decent save by Jon Gillies.
The Isles killed off an early penalty on Ross Johnston, but it took a while for the Islanders to get a power play opportunity of their own, the crowd rising in impatience and disbelief with each suspected atrocity. When they finally did get one while trailing 1-0, it ended quickly thanks to a dubious call on Brock Nelson.
They killed that one, and got an uninterrupted power play opportunity with three minutes to go. The first unit maintained good control but couldn’t get a dangerous shot through. But with Zach Parise creating havoc and drawing both Devils defensemen in front of the net, an uncovered Josh Bailey pounced on a rebound of Anthony Beauvillier’s shot to tie it at 1-1. That was with just a minute to go in the period, sending the teams to the first intermission with a deserved tie.
Second Period: Checking is remembered
The Isles appeared to up the physical effort to begin the second, finishing checks all across the rink.
They got an early power play opportunity and looked dangerous again, most notably when Noah Dobson fired a missile that rang off the crossbar.
A few minutes after that power play expired, newly named All-Star Adam Pelech gave the Islanders the lead on another sequnece where Parise’s work in front was pivotal. The Isles jumped on a turnover in the neutral zone, pressured down low and finally got the puck back to Pelech. His shot bounced down to the ice off a Devil thigh to create a carom that would’ve required ninja reflexes for Gillies to stop.
A few minutes later Pelech, who just does not take penalties (foreshadowing!), took an uncharacteristic one when he crosschecked and lion-pawed A.J. Greer to the ice after the Devils forward had poked for a rebound after Ilya Sorokin had the puck covered.
The Isles killed that one and escaped the period holding a 2-1 lead.
Third Period: Penalty troubles, then Barzal breaks through
Tensions continued to escalate when Oliver Wahlstrom leveled Jimmy Vesey with a check in the offensive zone, knocking Vesey’s helmet off despite no contact with the head. Nathan Bastian was one of the Devils who arrived for revenge, and he drew the extra penalty as part of an eventful period for him.
The Islanders continued to play with penalty fire in the third period and it finally burned them. Pelech took a tripping penalty — evidently just the second time in his career he’s taken two in a game, per MSG. Shortly after they killed that one, Nelson took his second penalty of the game, crosschecking, and they couldn’t kill that one. Bastian deflected in Ty Smith’s point blast for the tying goal at 10:25.
Bastian went to the box one more time after an exchange with Ross Johnston, who was probably lucky not to get an extra penalty. Though the Devils looked a little dangerous to start the 4-on-4, late in the two-minute stretch it was the Islanders who would take advantage.
Barzal had shown lots of life all night and had a couple of nifty connections with Josh Bailey, so it was fitting that he gave the Isles the go-ahead goal with five minutes left. It was a give-and-go at 4-on-4 with Bailey on the right wing side of the Devils zone. Barzal sniped the one-timer upstairs from the top of the slot, getting a piece of Gillies’ glove but still slipping under the crossbar.
The Devils pulled Gillies for a sixth attacker fairly early, took a while to get set up, and had one heart-stopping scramble where they might have found the equalizer. Other than that, the Isles played it pretty well to finish out the game, the crowd rising and appreciating the chance to see some Isles home wins again.
Zach Parise on UBS Arena: "We're comfortable here now."— Andrew Gross (@AGrossNewsday) January 14, 2022
This begins a stretch of 11 games over 20 days (God willing and Postponement Creek don’t rise) leading into the All-Star Weekend. Next is their first meeting with the Capitals on Saturday, then a home-and-home with the Flyers on Monday and Tuesday.