Teams around the New York Islanders continue to rack up standings points. With the Pittsburgh Penguins the latest team to stumble to five straight losing decisions, the Islanders needed to earn just a point to climb into a playoff spot, albeit with two extra games played. Thanks to Ilya Sorokin getting them through it, they overcame an ugly first period to storm to a regulation win over the Vancouver Canucks and move two points ahead of the Penguins. It’s a precarious playoff spot, but a playoff spot nonetheless.
Despite receiving very little ice time, Aatu Räty got the Islanders’ juices flowing with his second career goal. Once he did, Mathew Barzal helped carry them the rest of the way with a beautiful goal for the game-winner and two more assists in another great performance in his hometown. Parker Wotherspoon, who has filled in more than admirably for Adam Pelech and was also making a special homecoming, got his first NHL point in the process.
The first half of the period belonged to the Canucks, as the Islanders looked similar to their Sunday evening sleepwalk in Seattle. Ilya Sorokin made strong saves on J.T. Miller and Elias Pettersson, among others. The Islanders didn’t get a chance until around the 11:00-mark when Barzal dug out a puck from the boards and found Josh Bailey, who dished to Sebastian Aho.
The second half also belonged to the Canucks, save for a two-on-one for J-G Pageau and Zach Parise. Spencer Martin stopped the one-timer by Parise and smothered the follow-up.
Other than that, Vancouver kept the puck in the Isles zone. Anders Lee took a needless cross-checking penalty, and the Canucks nearly scored on the power play when Miller looked for a tip in front from Andrei Kuzmenko. They didn’t convert on the man advantage, but it was only a matter of time. Oliver Ekman-Larsson slapped a light one-timer, and Anthony Beauvillier failed to tie up Bo Horvat’s stick for the tip. Bo beat Beau this time.
Fortunately, it was only 1-0. The Islanders nearly tied it in the final seconds. Spencer Martin got a pad on Matt Martin’s shot and made a spectacular save to rob Parise on the rebound.
After four of the Islanders’ worst periods of hockey this season, Lane Lambert shuffled his top nine to start the second period, rolling out Parise-Pageau-Beauvillier followed by Bailey-Cizikas-Barzal, then Lee-Nelson-Fasching.
The only line that remained constant was the fourth line, and Aatu Räty got the Islanders on the board. Matt Martin fed the puck to Ross Johnston who got it to Räty cruising in untouched. It was his second NHL goal and woke the Islanders up.
In fact, the Islanders controlled through the next four-line rollout, and the fourth line nearly scored again when Räty got the puck down low with Johnston threatening. All that energy earned them a power play; Miller went off for slashing Parise’s stick behind the play, a good leadership penalty.
On their first chance, the man advantage woes persisted. Lambert debuted his new power play units, and both the “first” and the “second” units failed to accomplish much against the league’s worst penalty kill. Nelson fanned on the only clean chance, and Miller nearly created a goal coming out of the box. Despite another chance for Vancouver, the Islanders didn’t let the power play zap all their momentum.
Some nice work by Lee led to a blast from Brock Nelson, who froze frustrated after not scoring on the wide-open net he had and wasn’t completely ready for the follow-up chance. But thanks to a Tyler Myers slash, the Isles went back on the power play, and the revamped units clicked this time. Although they didn’t shoot as much as we might like, Ryan Pulock from the point let go of a pass he got from Barzal, and Pageau knocked in the rebound.
A bad turnover by Alex Romanov at his own blue line forced Sorokin to make a couple of acrobatic saves. Noah Dobson tied up Horvat to prevent him from a good rebound chance. And then Barzal extended his goal-scoring heat and the Islanders lead. He looked off Bailey and snapped it off the pipe and in.
Nelson then rung the puck off the post and surely must have felt snakebitten. The Islanders were in control after Barzal’s goal, but Matt Martin took a hooking penalty. From the bumper spot, Horvat one-timed Miller’s pass from the boards for a power play goal to cut New York’s lead to 3-2 as they went into the intermission.
The Islanders regained their two-goal lead early in the third period. Down low, Nelson stole the puck away from Ethan Bear and got it to Lee. Lee delayed, spun around, delayed, and beat Spencer Martin for the goal.
From there, it was about killing the clock and taking chances only when presented. Parker Wotherspoon got the puck up to Barzal, who crashed through the neutral zone and fed Cizikas as they crossed the blue line. Cizikas then rifled the puck into the top corner to give the Islanders a 5-2 lead. With the secondary assist, Wotherspoon got his first NHL point in his hometown game.
Cizikas helps restock the toy department after the holidays!— Isles on MSGSN (@IslesMSGN) January 4, 2023
And Parker Wotherspoon with his first NHL point! pic.twitter.com/xg7e4yZtWJ
Although they had done a good job of just killing the clock and helping me wind down for bed, Scott Mayfield took a holding penalty with less than four minutes remaining. Bruce Boudreau pulled Spencer Martin to create a six-on-four. Sorokin made a stellar save early in the kill and late in the kill, and the Canucks killed the rest of the time in between. Pageau, from deep in his own zone, added an empty-netter to make it 6-2 right off the faceoff after Boudreau called timeout.
Notes and Thoughts
- After a horrendous first period that made us say “here we go, again,” the Islanders got a goal and turned it back on, looking like the team they needed to be facing a circus in the Canucks. It was worth staying up late, thankfully.
- Nice homecoming for Mathew Barzal, who has six goals in his last six games and goals in four straight. He added two assists for three more points against his hometown team. He has recorded points in every game he has played in Vancouver.
- It was also a wonderful homecoming for extremely effective call-up (and maybe not going back down?) Parker Wotherspoon, whose family are season ticket holders to the Canucks. He lived out a childhood dream playing on Rogers Arena ice, and his family spoke with Shannon Hogan early in the game. How wild must it have been for him to earn his first NHL point there in Vancouver?
- Ilya Sorokin is good at stopping pucks. Have you heard about this? Have you seen this? Man, without him, the Islanders don’t come out of the first period with a chance to win. I cannot write enough good things about him.
- J-G Pageau quietly is having a nice bounceback season, now up to ten goals and leading the team in power play and shorthanded goals, according to MSGSN.
- Aatu Räty barely played despite scoring a goal. To wit, he took only one more shift in the second period after scoring on his first one in the period, and he created a chance on that second shift, too. Perhaps he should play more.
The Islanders head just a bit east in Canada for an Alberta back-to-back to wrap up this trip out west; they’ll visit the Edmonton Oilers Thursday night and Calgary Flames Friday night, both 9:00 p.m. ET starts. Then it’s back home for five games, most of them challenging.