It’s so typical of this weird New York Islanders season that they followed up a disappointing loss to a reeling team by knocking off the second-hottest team in the league.
Friday night’s turn of events was a 6-4 win over the New Jersey Devils, who had won 10 of 14 at home and had only lost three in regulation before meeting the Islanders. It makes perfect sense, in 2022-23 terms, that the Islanders were terrible against the Devils early in the season when we thought the Devils were terrible, and they played a complete game against the Devils after Jersey had stormed the entire league.
The Islanders got two goals from Brock Nelson, a great game from the Identity Line, and overcame the loss of Anthony Beauvillier to injury and temporary loss of Cal Clutterbuck to in-game facial repairs.
First Period: Forwards dropping
Things started off ominously, with the Isles wasting an early power play, then the Devils converting on one of their own right afterward, Nico Hischier scoring at 5:32.
But the Isles grinded it out, adjusting after losing Beauvillier to a crash into the end boards and Clutterbuck after his check resulted in nose meeting helmet. Beauvillier would return briefly before calling it a night, Clutterbuck would later come back with a full cage and start racking up points.
Things officially turned in the final five minutes of the period, when Brock Nelson tied it on a deceptive wraparound and then Anders Lee scored from the high slot to give the Isles a 2-1 lead 10 seconds before the buzzer.
Second Period: It gets briefly comfortable
The Isles picked up where they left off, extending their lead on a line rush by the Identity Line, a nice combo from Clutterbuck to Matt Martin to a sprinting Casey Cizikas, who was hilariously uncovered right at the doorstep.
That was at 3:31, and 34 seconds later it was 4-1. Mathew Brazal danced with little room at the top of the zone but found a lane for a shot to the net, and Oliver Wahlstrom sniped the rebound from the left wing circle. That chased Vitek Vanecek from the game, having conceded four goals on 17 shots.
Two goals in 34 seconds... We'll take it! pic.twitter.com/sBtgZxC1uD— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) December 10, 2022
Dawson Mercer got one back two minutes later to make it 4-2, but the Devils unraveled a bit in the middle of the period when Alex Romanov layed a hard, clean open-ice hit that knocked Miles Wood out of the game.
Alex Romanov with a huge hit on Miles Wood pic.twitter.com/4DHtLA5HQk— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) December 10, 2022
Romanov: “Clean hit. I can’t just let him skate through the four guys and score. … I never try to destroy somebody, it’s just a clean hit.”— Kevin Kurz (@KKurzNHL) December 10, 2022
Michael McLeod immediately jumped Romanov, as one does after big hits nowadays, and he landed some punches but paid for it with an instigator and a misconduct. The Isles didn’t score on that power play but controlled the puck well, and when they got another power play a couple of minutes later, Nelson one-timed a pretty feed from J-G Pageau to send the Isles to the break leading 5-2.
Brock Nelson ✌️ times pic.twitter.com/RoiuMrTq0z— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) December 10, 2022
Third Period: It gets interesting
The Islanders opened the third with what looked like it would securely put the game away on a goal just one minute in. Another good forecheck from the Identity Line ended up with the Devils coughing the puck up in the slot and the becaged Cal Clutterbuck striking quickly.
A quick look at Clutterbuck's goal pic.twitter.com/a6vXtGmXSg— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) December 10, 2022
But Tomas Tatar got one back 90 seconds later to make it 6-3 and retain some hope for the Devils. Then Casey Cizikas took a high-sticking penalty, which led to a hairy penalty kill that the Isles survived. Cizikas got a breakaway out of the box, but his backhand move was stopped by replacement goalie Akira Schmid.
So the Devils didn’t cash in on their renewed hope until they pulled the goalie with a crazy 7:33 left in regulation. Jack Hughes did the damage, making it 6-4 with 6:21 left on the clock.
The Devils continued to threaten, keeping their best guys out there and enjoying breaks from icings, while the Isles continued to maddeningly fail to score with the empty net.
Hughes stopped a few good empty net tries late, Alex Romanov from center ice and then a rebound from the slot. Sandwiched around that, the Devils also hit the metal twice on chances that would’ve made it a one-goal game.
But the Devils never got any closer, and with 1:30 left you could finally start to breathe a sigh of relief. The Devils attackers continued to control the puck, but they seemed to run out of gas and ideas.
A very demanding finish to the game for Semyon Varlamov — in maintaining focus if not facing too many official shots — but he ultimately faced only 29 shots for the whole game.
With Adam Pelech out, Robin Salo stepped in for the first time in nearly two months, and was used sparingly and carefully for 7:25 while pairing with Ryan Pulock.
At the opposite end of that spectrum, Scott Mayfield logged cross-country miles, including those final minutes with the goalie pulled, for a total of 25:17. His partner Romanov was just behind him with 24:45 and a nice bounce-back — two assists, a thundering defense of the slot — after his iffy game in the loss to the Blues.
Reverse Retro Time
Very cool to see the Devils’ reverse retros. Let’s be honest: The Colorado Rockies’ colors were awesome (so were the Kansas City Scouts they were based off of), as were the original Devils’ red and green — both superior to the dull “none more black” treatment they shifted to in the mid-’90s under Lou’s watch (and after the Ottawa Senators had already entered the league with a red-and-black combo). No one in the NHL is red and green and no one is red, blue and yellow, and that’s a shame.
Tomorrow, the Islanders debut their fisherman-inspired reverse retro, and I don’t know quite what to make of those.
It’s a back-to-back, but a local one, as the Islanders and their new-look fishermen are home tomorrow night to the Carolina Hurricanes.