The New York Islanders got back in the win column in a game they really needed, against an opponent they really should beat, but without Ilya Sorokin’s stellar performance it could have been a different story.
It was a good performance overall from the Islanders — much better than their loss two nights prior to the Capitals — but Sorokin had to make some Save of the Year-type highlights early on to keep the Isles on the path toward the win they felt they deserved.
It was scoreless after one, 2-1 after two, and ultimately a semi-comfortable victory, because every time the Isles had a breakdown, it seemed Sorokin was not going to allow the Flyers to score. Their only goal came off a crazy bounce that briefly got the Flyers back into the game late in the second.
#Isles in warmups— Andrew Gross (@AGrossNewsday) January 18, 2022
First Period: Much better
Other than a Scott Mayfield holding penalty 27 seconds into the game — and then making very little of a power play of their own a minute later — the Islanders came out looking far better than they did Saturday.
They pushed the offense with all four lines instead of just Oliver Wahlstrom and Kieffer Bellows getting the looks. Those two did indeed get more fine-looking chances in the first, but this time they were joined by J-G Pageau, Zach Parise, the fourth line, and several others.
The penalty kill was called to duty one more time at 7:42, and that was it for gamestate-changing events for the rest of the period. Over the final 10 minutes, though they didn’t get on the board, the Islanders looked like a team that can play with confidence against opponents like this.
It was 0-0, but things looked promising heading into the first intermission.
Second Period: Goals and Sorokin highlights
The second period began with a decent Islanders forecheck followed immediately by an odd neutral zone carom off Noah Dobson’s skate that went right to to create a 2-on-0 where Travis Konecny made a great low cross-slot pass to Scott Laughton. Ilya Sorokin stretched, full splits, across the crease to get his blocker in position to make the stop.
That wasn’t even the beginning of Sorokin’s early-period heroics.
The Islanders went on the power play soon afterward and initially set things up nicely. But similar to his problems Saturday against the Capitals, Noah Dobson passed to Oliver Wahlstrom’s feet, negating the one-timer and the good possession. Then the Isles conceded a maddening series of odd-man, shorthanded rushes. Sorokin was there to meet each one, including one sequence where he stopped the two rebounds, too.
Following that, the Isles went on the PK again, where they gave up fewer dangerous chances than when they had the extra man.
The penalty killed, the Islanders finally opened scoring for a 1-0 lead at 11:44.
Josh Bailey poked a neutral-zone puck past a casual Ivan Provorov, allowing him to gain the zone with speed. Over the line, Bailey drew bodies and then dropped to Brock Nelson. Nelson clutched and used universally revered offseason acquisition Rasmus Ristolainen as the perfect screen to beat Martin Jones over the shoulder.
Just a few shifts later, the Isles struck again, again through a screen. Robin Salo walked the line to find a lane for the puck to weave through a mad crowd of bodies. Jones threw up his arms in the universal gesture of “can’t see a damned thing here,” and Casey Cizikas evidently got a slight piece of it for his first regular season goal since April 2021.
2-0 ON THE DEFLECTION! pic.twitter.com/o4KgXnlBKz— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) January 18, 2022
The Flyers finally got on the board late, via another crazy carom off Dobson. This time it was a Konecny dump from the right wing that appeared to be heading nowhere threatening. It went off Dobson’s shoulder and arced in past Sorokin, who spotted it and waved at it, but in this instance his reflexes may have been too fast.
That allowed the Flyers a chance to make it uncomfortable, and damn if Joel Farabee didn’t get a late breakaway with a chance to tie. Sorokin stayed with him the whole way, stared him down, and had the blocker up again to stop Farabee’s forehand attempt at the stick-side post.
Third Period: Take the points, prep for tomorrow
The physical encounters continued to escalate in the third, so we’ll see if some of that tension and ill mood carries over to tomorrow night.
Still playing with fire, the Isles conceded a 2-on-2 rush early in the period, and Farabee turned Scott Mayfield inside out before Mayfield planted him down to prevent a chance. Sorokin’s pokecheck made sure any second-attempt danger was cleared.
The Islanders got their insurance goal back at 4:44 after a good forecheck from Wahlstrom, Brock Nelson and Anthony Beauvillier that would’ve drawn a penalty if the goal hadn’t wiped that. Beauvillier got the final whack at a bouncing puck to make it 3-1 and restore some breathing room.
Mid-way through the period, Wahlstrom was called for an offensive zone hooking while in pursuit. The Flyers held on to the puck for about 90 seconds with the goalie pulled during the delayed penalty, but it didn’t amount to much. And it meant the actual power play began with just over eight minutes left in regulation.
The Flyers pulled Jones for a sixth attacker with three minutes left, and they eventually worked a couple of good chances. A tic-tac-bumper play set up James van Riemsdyk with a shot from the top of the crease but he hit the post. Farabee was set up for a cross-slot one-timer but Sorokin slide over and read it comfortably for a pad save.
Then the Isles got a chip clear, a catch by Matt Martin at center ice, and a half-rink empty-netter for Martin’s first of the season.
- Barry Trotz was back behind the bench, freed from COVID Protocol and leading the team in a game for the first time in 2022.
- Between injury and COVID, Brock Nelson has had an uneven couple of months and few appearances. He still looks like he’s getting back in stride, but it was nice to see his shot there tonight.
- In an alternate universe season, Parise would have 10 goals this year off his butt, rebounds and deflections alone.
- The Isles are up to a .484 points percentage. Not playoff-worthy by any means, but overall progress!
- My goodness, Sorokin.
Let's hear it for the first star of the game pic.twitter.com/6yiPN0yTne— Isles on MSG+ (@IslesMSGN) January 18, 2022
They do it again tomorrow night in Philadelphia. It’s an ESPN+ exclusive, so good luck if you depend on local coverage.