For a disorienting 12:30 p.m. start, the New York Islanders and St. Louis Blues did not have a sleepy match Saturday at Belmont. The game was fairly feisty for cross-conference opponents, and the Islanders used the first two goals — a rarity for them this season — to hang on for a 2-1 victory.
Kyle Palmieri had as many disallowed goals as his teammates had allowed ones, but the Isles didn’t need the insurance thanks to 27 saves from Ilya Sorokin — some huge ones in the closing minutes — and disciplined defensive work from the team in front of him.
The Islanders remained without Mathew Barzal and Zdeno Chara, and today added another absence: captain Anders Lee (personal reasons). That initiated the recall of Otto Koivula, which bumped Josh Bailey back to his usual role as a winger.
Of additional and intriguing note, Chara was actually placed on IR while Parker Wotherspoon was recalled from Bridgeport. Some interesting comments around that, which surely have nothing to do with Robin Salo being quoted recently in Finnish sports media acknowledging he’d rather live on Long Island and play in the NHL than live in Bridgeport and toil in the A.
“[Wotherspoon has] been our best defenseman down in Bridgeport consistently for a while,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “There’s guys that are more, I’ll say, have a better name brand that you would know, but at the same time, you have to evaluate players, who’s playing the best down in Bridgeport.”
To be clear, Wotherspoon did not dress today. (He’s been assigned #38, if you’re tracking.) Now in his fifth full season in Bridgeport, the 2015 4th-round pick has long been a nice piece down in Bridgeport but has never gotten a look with the big club.
Chara was honored before the game for recently breaking the NHL record for games played by a defenseman. Though he was in street clothes, this was a pre-planned event where his family could make it from Boston.
First Period: Ollie back on the board
After the Isles killed off an opening minute hooking penalty on Brock Nelson, the Blues had the first Grade A 5-on-5 chance when Ryan O’Reilly approached after a delayed offside with a clear shot from the left circle. Ilya Sorokin challenged the Blues captain and got a shoulder on the shot.
Sorokin also stopped countryman Klim Kostin after the Blues forward undressed Matt Martin coming off the right wing boards and got himself a prime look from the top of the slot. Martin responded with a face shove after the whistle that went uncalled and opened the afternoon’s chippiness ledger.
(Martin would later crosscheck Robert Bortuzzo down from behind in the final minute, after Bortuzzo had tied up Casey Cizikas, initiating an in-game feud and some bench-area tomfoolery as the period wound down:
Anyway, it wasn’t too long after those Blues chances, the Islanders opened scoring at 6:36. The Islanders caught the Blues in a bad line change combined with a turnover at their blueline, which allowed Oliver Wahlstrom to go in alone. Wahlstrom deked to the backhand and was stopped by Jordan Binnington, but the disruption led to some good work by the Isles’ five skaters to keep possession and sustain pressure.
After some point shots and overlaps in the zone, Wahlstrom had the puck alone along the goal line to Binnington’s right. He looked pass enough to get Binnington to lean a bit, and found a gap to bounce the puck in off Binnington’s right side. It was Wahlstrom’s first goal in over a month, 12 games ago vs. the Senators.
One more look at Wahlstrom's goal! pic.twitter.com/z5id67oDKy— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) March 5, 2022
The Isles thought they’d doubled their lead with 3:17 left after more good pressure, but the Blues successfully challenged for goalie interference.
Kyle Palmieri had circled over the top of the slot and fired with Kieffer Bellows battling Torey Krug in front of the Blues net. Bellows stayed out of the crease, but as he battled Krug his stick pushed the knob of Binnington’s stick askew in the goalie’s hand, and the shot went through the gap where Binnington arguably would’ve had his paddle. Tough luck and tough call, but understandable.
With five seconds to go in the period, former Manhattan Smurf Pavel Buchnevich took an admittedly soft slash/hook on Brock Nelson to set the Isles up for a power play to open the second period.
Second Period: Brock hits 20
That turned out to be a welcome bonus: The Islanders power play worked the puck really well once they gained entry to the Blues zone, ultimately leading to a second goal at 1:04. Zach Parise created havoc in front of the net, preventing Binnington from smothering. The Blues goalie then tried to poke the puck free of the scramble, successfully doing so but getting his stick trapped under his own defenseman’s body in the process.
Noah Dobson jumped on that puck in the slot and, with Binnington scrambling and stickless, fed to his right to Nelson, who had lots of net to hit and make it 2-0. That’s the 20th goal for Nelson, the sixth time he’s reached that mark — though this year it only took 43 games.
Another look at Brock's tally earlier in the second period. pic.twitter.com/nZ6EmHejxz— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) March 5, 2022
The Islanders took their second penalty of the afternoon on a shady call, a faceoff violation on Casey Cizikas. Yes, Cizikas played the puck back with his hand — or his knuckles, really — but that hand was firmly attached to his stick with a Blues player kneeling on top of him. Not sure what else a center is supposed to do in that situation, and I don’t see how that penalty should apply here.
Regardless, the Isles killed it off without too much stress.
After more post-whistle roughhousing, Martin and Buchnevich were sent to the box with coincidental roughing penalties that put the teams at 4-on-4. Palmieri, of all people made the most of that situation with some dazzling stickhandling and slot-penetrating orbits with possession. He’d drawn Binnington down as he went to a sharp angle on the right side, but Colton Parayko was there to deflect Palmieri’s shot out of play.
Blues defenseman Niko “Don’t call me Mikko Makela” Mikkola took a tripping penalty behind the Isles net to give the Isles 30 seconds of 4-o-3. The Isles had a few looks, and Anthony Beauvillier was the one to finally shoot, but the chance faded.
Nothing more happened on that one, but the teams played 4-on-4 again after a big scramble that started with Vladimir Tarasenko and Cal Clutterbuck tangling after Tarasenko took Clutterbuck to the net on the backcheck, Binnington gave Clutterbuck a punch, and Clutterbuck responded with a crosscheck.
After the ensuing scrum, Cizikas and Ivan Barbashev went to the box. That carried over 13 seconds into the third.
Bortuzzo and Martin came close to blows early in the third, but they were upstaged by a pretty passionate fight between Scott Mayfield and Kostin after the two had battled behind and in front of the net.
The Isles had the Blues where they wanted them, were clogging the middle, and were content to see if the visitors would frustrate themselves into sealing the game.
Reflective of that, Nelson interfered with Tyler Bozak at the blueline, ultimately drawing retaliation and a penalty on the veteran center. On the ensuing power play, Palmieri deflected a rising Noah Dobson shot into the goal, which was ruled legal on the ice but ultimately became Palmieri’s second disallowed goal of the game.
Binnington and several Blues immediately signaled high stick, but it took a coach’s challenge to force the issue via video review. It was close — Bossy help us all if this happened in a playoff game — but ultimately the right call.
The Blues, who have not been shut out in 76 games, pulled Binnington for a sixth attacker with over three minutes left. With 2:52 left they kept that streak alive when Robert Thomas (not the Matchbox 20 guy, thankfully) made two bad-angle tries on Sorokin. The first attempt was from behind the net and hit Sorokin’s leg; the second attempt was from closer in and banked in, similar to Wahlstrom’s first-period goal. That cut the Isles lead to 2-1 and made the final two minutes pretty nerve-wracking.
The Blues put Binnington back in, gained possession, and created a dangerous chance off a dump-in once again, but Mayfield earned a whistle when he battled Jordan Kyrou into taking the Isles net off its moorings.
The visitors then controlled possession in a terrifying way in the Isles zone for a full minute before the Isles got a clear and partial line change. Sorokin stood tall — or rather stretched far — to stop Braden Schenn, and got a shoulder on a point-blank chance by O’Reilly.
With 25 seconds left, the Blues called timeout to catch their breath and plot one more assault. The Blues won the draw, but couldn’t steady the puck and the Isles got the final critical clears they needed. An icing with 2.5 seconds left created one more chance on the draw, but Cal Clutterbuck blocked the shot.
The Islanders continue their homestand when the Avalanche visit Monday night.