It was too close for comfort, but the Islanders kept their surprisingly productive homestand rolling with a 4-3 regulation win over the depleted and struggling Anaheim Ducks Wednesday night on Long Island.
The Islanders outplayed the Ducks, as well they should, but they had several moments where it could’ve all slipped away. A scoreless first period was followed by a 2-0 Isles lead that they gave away in the second, though each goal against included a fortuitous bounce.
Then in the third period they even fell behind 3-2, but the hot power play went to work to tie it, then Simon Holmstrom scored the winner on the penalty kill with 1:33 to go.
Yes, that’s Holmstrom’s fourth shorthanded goal, out of eight goals in his 27 games. He had six total goals in nearly twice as many games last season.
- The Islanders had two goals called back in this one, though you can’t complain about either. Bo Horvat found Mike Reilly streaking toward the goal in the first, but Reilly poked it across as John Gibson was trying to smother. The Ducks won a challenge for goalie interference.
- The other erased goal was even less debatable: On a second-period power play, Brock Nelson knocked a rebound out of the air with a high stick. He was patient and did wait, but not long enough. The call on the ice was no goal, and it was not reconsidered.
- The first one that counted: I love the “I just score goals, ho-hum” version of Kyle Palmieri. Always a welcome sight:
- Don’t say you’ve never seen a Ross Johnston breakaway before because he scored on one with the Isles. But what a sight it was tonight to see him get another one, only to have newcomer Robert Bortuzzo catch up and strip him of the puck just in time.
- Fun to see Johnston and J-G Pageau (and Sebastian Aho) mix it up in front of the net and after the whistle, followed by laughs and smiles afterward.
- Speaking of Aho, he was back in the lineup in his first since hitting IR, and he looked good. Mobile, assertive.
What a well-executed, much needed equalizer this was. A critical Noah Dobson keep-in preceded it:
MATHEW BARZAL TIES THIS GAME UP pic.twitter.com/jmtSl22ANU— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) December 14, 2023
- My Bossy, Dobson is having himself a season. Two more assists tonight. He regressed last season, so I think we’re hesitant to pump the tires too much too soon, but THIS is where we thought he was going after his 2021-22.
- Late in the game at 5-on-5, the Isles gave up a couple golden looks that could’ve sent enveryone home pissed. Then with 1:45 left in regulation, Bortuzzo was whistled for tripping by a referee in the opposite corner who could not have possibly seen the play. It was a terrible call and I started to get that “here we go” feeling.
- But the Ducks are in much more of a “here we go” state right now, so on the ensuing faceoff, the refs evened it up with a soft makeup call — and then as they complained, on the delayed penalty Holmstrom rushed up the left wing and sniped from a tight angle over Gibson’s shoulder. Beautiful.
- So the Isles had a 4-3 lead, but the goal wiped out the delayed penalty, meaning the Ducks stayed on the power play. They came close. The Isles still have not scored an empty-net goal. And Semyon Varlamov made two glove saves — one through impossibly blinding traffic — in the final five seconds to preserve the win.
So despite their hot streak, this team still makes things too close for comfort. The games are still largely on a knife’s edge, whether against a down-in-the-dumps team like the Ducks or a Team Everyone Should Praise and Celebrate like the Leafs.
But man, at 14-7-7 suddenly they’re not only in second place again but also just four points behind the Smurfs, who enjoyed such a blazing start to the season.
The homestand is now at 4-0-1, and the “x of their last” is now up to points in 13 of their last 14. They’ve got one regulation loss in the last month, and that was a game they should have won and were in position to do so before the “fire Lambert” chants rained down.
Hockey is funny.
The six-game homestand completes on Friday with a visit from the Bruins, who are always a good litmus test for the state of the Isles. Then the Isles hit the road for a game in Montreal the next night.
Ross the Boss
See, it can happen. But there are rules.