The New York Islanders have struggled to beat some bad teams this season, but the Columbus Blue Jackets have not given them too much trouble so far. They haven’t given away any points to their division rival, now having taken six of a possible six points from them. They also took six out of six points on this homestand, all in regulation, before they trek to the Pacific Northwest/Western Canada.
Importantly, there was no “playing down” to their opponent tonight, despite the close score. Solid goaltending from normally bad Joonas Korpisalo kept the Blue Jackets from being out of the game, and they did manage to snap Ilya Sorokin’s shutout bid with just over 20 seconds left on a very fluky body goal. But the Islanders controlled the puck basically from start to finish and finally scored a power-play goal en route to their third straight victory and a return to a playoff spot, one they’ll hold onto at least until the calendar flips to 2023.
The first minutes of the game was largely nondescript. The only opportunity of note was a potential two-on-one for Mathew Barzal and Hudson Fasching. But Andrew Peeke broke up Barzal’s pass as help arrived, and no chance came close to the net. On the bright side, the Islanders not long after earned themselves a power play with good work in the offensive zone.
Although with the Islanders’ power play mired in an 0/25 slump, perhaps it wasn’t exactly correct to call it “the bright side.” The Islanders had one dangerous sequence when Josh Bailey sent a point shot through the middle, off the stick of Anthony Beauvillier but into Joonas Korpisalo’s pads. Anders Lee could not tap in the rebound try. And the power play was arguably more notable for Erik Gudbranson leaving his feet to deliver a late body check to Brock Nelson.
Shortly after killing the penalty, the Blue Jackets went on their own power play—the too many men call was made by their head coach Brad Larsen, who pointed out correctly to the officials that the Islanders had six men on. Sorokin made a nice save on Columbus’ only threatening chance, a shot from the “Ovi spot” by Emil Bemstrom.
Nelson, evidently okay after Gudbranson’s hit, led an odd-man rush right after the bench minor expired and pulled up for the shot, which was deflected over the net. He made a nearly identical play on his next shift.
The Islanders then got away with a bad giveaway. Alex Romanov tried to feed Barzal at the blue line where rookie Kirill Marchenko picked it off and started on a breakaway. But fortunately for New York, Marchenko skied the puck over the goal.
Another Blue Jackets penalty, another Islanders’ failed power play, and they nearly gave up a shorthanded goal off a Barzal turnover inside the blue line. Sorokin stopped the first shot on the two-on-one, and Noah Dobson tipped the rebound chance away from danger. They got a better chance when Casey Cizikas took a free pass from a Blue Jacket in the offensive zone. He was wide open in the slot, but Korpisalo made a great save. And in the final seconds, Fasching took a shift with Lee and Nelson and had a backhand shot pop up and just barely miss the net.
Cizikas opened the period by flying into Korpisalo at, according to the broadcast, 22 mph with an 84-mph shot and ringing it off Korpisalo’s noggin. Not to be outdone, Kent Johnson one-handed a puck down low onto Sorokin, but he stopped the puck.
The game appeared to slow down when J-G Pageau channeled his inner Adam “Cobra” Pelech in creating a turnover between Johnny Gaudreau and Adam Boqvist. Boqvist caught up to Pageau, so he dropped it off to Fasching. Fasching juked Gaudreau and carried the puck to the net, shooting five-hole on Korpisalo. The puck squirted through his legs, and Pageau, wisely having gone to the net, tapped it over the line.
Beauvillier, maybe motivated by all the call-ups nipping at his heels, got a little physical in this period, and it helped the Islanders break their power play drought. Before the events leading up to the goal, he got into a little scrum in front of the Islanders’ net.
A little later, the Islanders went back to the kill after a shift for Parker Wotherspoon that lasted nearly 3:00. Wotherspoon nor Beauvillier took that penalty, but Sebastian Aho did for slashing Jack Roslovic. Columbus couldn’t get anything going and in fact, the Islanders had the better chances, leading to Gaudreau interfering with Beauvillier. Gaudreau then jabbed him with his stick, and Beauvillier returned some hands. Gaudreau got two penalties, and Beauvillier got one minor.
As Aho’s penalty expired, Cizikas led an odd-man rush where he deked around the Columbus player and, from down low, got the puck across to Aho. But the try misfired. However, the Islanders were now on the power play, and a broken play found its way to Nelson, who fed Barzal in the “Ovi spot.” Barzal slammed it home, his third goal in two games and the power play’s first goal in eight games and 29 tries.
The period ended with the Islanders up 2-0.
Early on, Barzal caught the Blue Jackets in a change and blasted around the net with a wraparound try that Korpisalo got around in time to block. Nelson wanted to get in on the fun and, on an odd-man rush, danced around Boqvist and nearly finished what would have been a Top 10 play. Korpisalo was up to the task, though.
Nelson had dangerous looks all night long, really. I counted two more wide-open looks for the sniper that, while he wasn’t in high-danger territory, provided him ample opportunity to score. Korpisalo had to be strong tonight, and he was. Pageau had another great chance off the rush that Korpisalo stopped, and he also got ahold of Zach Parise’s follow-up attempt.
In one of the few good moments for Columbus, Olivier pulled a puck away from Dobson along the boards and found Eric Robinson in front of the goal. But the Islanders have Ilya Sorokin to back them up, and he stoned Robinson.
With about two and a half minutes remaining, the Blue Jackets pulled the goalie. They did, at one point, trap the Islanders in their zone for over a minute. However, they didn’t threaten until a floater from the point caught a piece of Bemstrom’s jersey, snapping Sorokin’s shutout with just 20.5 seconds on the clock.
Columbus, within one goal, called their timeout. But Pageau won the ensuing faceoff, and the Islanders prevented the Blue Jackets from setting anything up to secure the regulation 2-1 victory.
Notes and Thoughts
- Three straight wins, baby. Six out of six points on this homestand, including a dominating win over a bad team in Columbus. That’s what they need to do. Yes, the score was close, but I give that to Korpisalo. The Isles generated all night, and the Blue Jackets bled chances.
- With their win and the Rangers’ shootout loss to the Lightning, the Islanders move back into the final wild card—courtesy of their 18-16 regulation win advantage over the Smurfs. They’re locked into eighth and ninth through New Year’s because neither of them plays until Sunday, so the Isles end the calendar year in a playoff spot. The two New York teams and the Penguins all have 44 points, but Pittsburgh is the first wild card because they have two games in hand on the other two teams. All three teams are just one point behind third-place Washington and two points behind second-place New Jersey. Hoo-wee, it’s close in the Metro.
- The Islanders finish the calendar year of 2022 on a high note, and they end the month of December at 6-5-2. Not great, but they salvaged what could have been a disastrous month with this strong homestand to close out the year. And since it seems like the standings could come down to tiebreakers this season, we say thank you to the Islanders for taking all six of their wins in regulation. Look no further than the last bullet point to see how important that is.
- Congratulations to Casey Cizikas, a fourth-line center and third- and first-line right-winger, on his 700th NHL game, all as an Islander. He took shifts on the wing with both the Parise-Pageau unit and the Bailey-Barzal unit.
- Mathew Barzal was on one tonight and ended up with the game-winner. Brock Nelson, as well. He assisted on Barzal’s goal, but he finished with seven shots on goal. It’s amazing that one didn’t go in.
- I’m not a huge believer in the importance of tracking faceoff stats—some faceoffs are much more important than others. But as the broadcast highlighted, Aatu Räty has a different yet successful strategy of switching the stick to make it a strong-side faceoff on both sides of the ice. He also gets his hand really low. It’s interesting for sure.
- Finally, poor Ilya Sorokin. He deserved the shutout, and to lose it on a goal like that is [fart noise]. He didn’t have to make too many saves, but Columbus had some good chances early in the game, and he kept them off the board. But surely he’s happy to get the win.
This was the Isles’ last game of the calendar year 2022. Their next game will be in 2023 and on the other side of the continent. They visit the Seattle Kraken for the second time ever on Sunday, New Year's Day, at 8:00 p.m. ET. It will be an ESPN (the TV channel) exclusive.