Semyon Varlamov made 36 saves, Mathew Barzal added two more assists to his Reverse Cy Young campaign, and the Islanders penalty kill spent half the second period on the job as the New York Islanders gutted out a 4-2 win over the Senators start their four-game road trip off on the right foot.
Varlamov stopped 10 shots on the PK and a few more game-saving chances as the Senators pressed for an equalizer late in the game. It was one of those nights that definitely could’ve gone the other way but for a good or bad bounce here or there. Thankfully, Varlamov did everything he could to give the Isles breathing room as they returned to the box again and again, and the Isles got timely power play goals to relieve the pressure.
First Period: I’m still at work
To really accentuate the game’s disorienting early 5:30 start, Erik Brannstrom took an interference penalty just 22 seconds in. So much for rhythm, and no the Islanders did not convert.
But they received a second power play around the midway point thanks to Alex Romanov’s physicality. He finished a simple check in the corner, but high, which drove Shane Pinto’s head into the glass. Pinto stayed down for a beat before returning to the bench, and eventually being escorted to the room (possibly for concussion protocol, since he didn’t look out of sorts and returned later in the period).
With play continuing, Austin Watson took the opportunity to deliver a “hey don’t do that” crosscheck to Romanov, which knocked the defenseman down and put the Isles on the power play. The first unit didn’t get much going, but Oliver Wahlstrom came streaking down the right wing to receive a cross-zone pass and get a clean look on Cam Talbot. He sizzled a shot far low post to give the Isles a 1-0 lead at 11:53.
The Isles very nearly doubled their lead right away, as Scott Mayfield creeped down low for a redirection from a Sebastian Aho point volley — the kind of play that could have paid off as a high-percentage goal, or a 3-on-1 the other way. Mayfield’s deflection deadened the puck enough to prevent the latter, but not strong enough to cash in the former.
For the most part, Varlamov did not have a lot of work to do until late in the period, when things got rather hectic. One sequence required a series of Varly saves after Adam Pelech and then Zach Parise took turns blowing tires in the defensive zone.
With 1:26 left, Ross Johnston reminded us he’s in the lineup — for Josh Bailey, surprisingly — by engaging in a not-really-fighting tussle with Watson. They dropped the gloves, but it was mostly a shoulder-grip feat of strength until Johnston wrestled Watson to the ice. Each did receive fighting majors.
Second Period: Half in the box
The Islanders looked to have decent control but for repeated penalty troubles: They spent 9:26 of the middle period in the box.
Kyle Palmieri was the culprit, with a tripping penalty at 1:44 right after he and Ross Johnston had created some nice chances. Though the Isles penalty kill survived that one, the Senators power play is terrifying and foretold doom.
Three and a half minutes after Palmieri’s penalty expired, Johnston took a turn in the box, with an undisciplined engagement with Pinto in front of the Isles bench. The Islanders were getting by on that penalty kill — the Senators moved the puck lethally quick, but the Isles were tying up sticks and boxing out. But during a battle to prevent a deflection in front, Scott Mayfield missed Brady Tkachuk’s stick and got his face instead. Tkachuk stayed on and didn’t appear damaged, but Mayfield was given four minutes.
The Senators moved the puck quickly around the umbrella and converted on a Drake Batherson one-timer just 11 seconds after the beginning of the 5-on-3. The Isles then had to kill off another 3:49 one man short, which took them past the midway point of the period and to a potentially pivotal point in the game.
Less than a minute after Mayfield was freed, Noah Dobson intercepted a rim around the boards at the point and sent a shot toward net and somehow past Talbot, with Anders Lee creating traffic in front. (I could’ve sworn it ramped upstairs off Lee’s stick, but the official scorer did not share that view.)
That gave the Isles a 2-1 lead that you’d think have them poised to take control after surviving all that penalty killing.
But they weren’t done parading to the box. Cal Clutterbuck took a high-sticking penalty against Mathieu Joseph. They killed that but were lucky to reach the second intermission up 2-1 after facing most of the Senators’ 16 second-period shots while shorthanded.
After the stress of that period, the intermission break contained good levity.
First, Shannon Hogan asked J-G Pageau about Pageau’s heads-up dropping of his own stick for Scott Mayfield (whose stick had broken) before retrieving Mayfield’s replacement from the bench and conducting a mid-play swap.
Then things got more fun, as Thomas Hickey calmly continued his analysis while Hogan played lookout each time a Zamboni came off the ice and threatened to take out the entire Isles analyst crew on their first game of the trip. Sign me up for more of the Hickey & Hogan show.
Third Period: Much-needed insurance
What should the Islanders’ focus be entering the third? Staying out of the box.
What did Palmieri do just 4:33 into the third? He went to the box.
It was a tough-luck tripping call behind the Senators’ net, all the more frustrating after Palmieri lost the handle on a glorious chance after Pageau sent him in alone on net.
Once more, the Islanders penalty kill was up to the task, and this time they finally got a power play of their own after a sloppy offensive zone high stick by Joseph on Sebastian Aho.
And guess what? The Isles power play cashed in with its second of the game. Former Senator Pageau was the scorer, chopping his backhand on a bouncing rebound in the low slot. Barzal collected another assist on the play, his second of the game and 18th of the season.
Pageau’s goal to make it 3-1 only came at 8:21 of the third, but somehow it felt like the Isles would have the game in hand from that point on.
They did not.
The Isles lightly but not comprehensively covered a quick transition from the Sens down the left wing boards. Though the Isles had numbers back, there were more Sens coming. Claude Giroux passed Anthony Beauvillier to spring free through the slot, where the former Flyers captain was able to redirect a spinning Tkachuk pass home to make it 3-2.
That left almost seven minutes on the clock for the Isles to kill, and possibly stay out of the box. They could’ve easily been called for one or two more, but the refs decided enough was enough. The refs also put their whistle away when Brock Nelson was hooked as he tried to escape the zone for what would’ve likely been an empty net goal.
But karma would have the last say. The Senators threatened and continued to do so when they pulled Talbot for a sixth attacker with over two minutes left, with their top line particularly horrifying.
78.26 CF%, 85.56 xGF% for the first line https://t.co/E2xkvNlE4q— Brad T (@Sammich_BLT) November 15, 2022
But Nelson intercepted a play at the blueline, and Cal Clutterbuck and Casey Cizikas helped send Nelson up ice to get his deserved empty netter after all.
It wasn’t pretty, but it was gutsy, with big credit to the PK and Varlamov for starting the road trip off right.
It’s down to Nashville for a meeting with the Predators on Thursday.