The New York Islanders continued their season of surprises and mood swings by pulling off a solid and frankly surprising 2-1 regulation win at home over the Winnipeg Jets.
It’s not so surprising that they won — that happens in the NHL’s 55/45 nightly coin flips. But they did it with key injuries up front and without having to hold on for dear life for 60 minutes. They gutted it out with a lineup that included Simon Holmstrom, Ross Johnston and Arnaud Durandeau in his second NHL game. (He also got his first NHL penalty.)
Having Bo Horvat and Brock Nelson consume valuable minutes definitely helped, as did the endless hustle of Zach Parise and the ever-cobra instincts of Adam Pelech.
The victory keeps the Isles in the lead wild card spot in the East, with 67 points. They have more games played than anyone else, but getting wins in situations like this are essential to their bid to become first-round playoff cannon fodder.
The Isles sandwiched good first and third periods around an ugly second period, so overall it was not one of those nights where they needed Ilya Sorokin to completely steal the game for them. It will be interesting if they start to coalesce around this backs-against-the-wall situation to gut out some more underdog wins.
Holmstrom, who’s been challenged by Lane Lambert lately to show more, scored the feel-good game-winning goal with just over 10 minutes left in regulation.
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First Period: Good start against a good team
It was a refreshing opening for the Islanders, who went toe-to-toe with one of the top teams in the West. Instead of hanging on and relying on Ilya Sorokin saves — though there were plenty of those too — they were right there through a wide-open period. Officially, shots were 11-9 in the Isles’ favor.
The lone goal came at 4-on-4, on the counterattack from a bad Jets turnover high in the Isles’ zone. Brock Nelson led the rush with Kyle Palmieri, took the shot, and Sebastian Aho pounced on the rebound for his fifth goal of the season.
Sebastian Aho puts home a Brock Nelson rebound for the #Isles lead pic.twitter.com/fkojULctVG— Isles on MSGSN (@IslesMSGN) February 23, 2023
Second Period: Lean on Sorokin
The middle frame was a different story, harrowing and frightening. The Jets controlled play from the get-go, and they tied the game on an early power play.
With Casey Cizikas in the box for tripping, Nikolaj Ehlers walked in from the faceoff circle and ripped a shot that ramped up off of Ryan Pulock’s stick and over Ilya Sorokin’s shoulder.
If not for Sorokin’s play, the Jets surely would’ve had more over the course of the period, where they outshot the 11-4. Somehow, despite some sloppiness all the way through the final seconds of the period, the Isles reached the second intermission still tied 1-1.
Third Period: Simon says ‘GOAL’
Looking for a fresh start, the Islanders had an opportunity early in the third when Blake Wheeler went to the box for high-sticking. But it was another ugly power play for the Isles, no true opportunity created.
And naturally, Ross Johnston Isles was sent to the box again soon afterward.
It was another soft call, probably the softest of the night and frankly, well, not a penalty: You can put your free hand on a guy without interfering with what he’s doing, and that’s what happened here.
The Jets power play was really dangerous, as they moved the puck around to the spots they were trying to set up, but Sorokin and the PK unit were getting just enough piece of pucks to keep the puck out.
That proved huge, because soon after the successful PK, the Isles struck with the go-ahead goal. Really good forechecking work from Simon Holmstrom, Bo Horvat and Matt Martin ultimately led to a Horvat setup for Holmstrom, who shot around a screen to the top corner to give the Isles a 2-1 lead.
Bo Horvat with a great pass to Martin and it's Simon Holmstrom who finds the back of the net for an #Isles 3rd period lead pic.twitter.com/mebQNfmKbC— Isles on MSGSN (@IslesMSGN) February 23, 2023
It was a nice reward for Holmstrom, who was on the receiving end of the Wheeler high-sticking penalty and also took the hit in the corner to start the forecheck on his goal.
With the Islanders looking to protect the lead, they instead put the Jets on the power play again. This one was a no-doubter; Otto Koivula reached for a loose puck in the neutral zone put got Karson Kuhlman’s skate instead.
The Isles killed that one with some inspired work, and then they actually took control of play for a while. Horvat was often at the center of things, but the Isles were just doing good, smart work to keep play alive and often in the Jets zone. With 2:31 left, Kyle Palmieri kept his feet moving to drive outside to the net and drew a penalty on Dylan Demelo.
They pretty much wasted the power play, arguably strategically so, by playing it safe. But of course when you play it safe, you’ll inevitably give up a chance or two you shouldn’t, and that happened here.
Still, the Isles kept things to the perimeter after the Jets pulled the goalie for a fifth attacker, and then through the final 30 seconds of 6-on-5.
Matt Martin, 1st-Liner
As previewed, Matt Martin did some time on a first line with Bo Horvat and Anders Lee, and it must be said he did some good things. We all know the limits of his skill set, but he can also astutely adjust to situations, and he was doing the positional and battle things to help rather than hinder his more skilled linemates.
1st Liner Matty Martin pic.twitter.com/iUaj3hZDTO— Isles on MSGSN (@IslesMSGN) February 22, 2023
The Islanders face another top (surprisingly) West team on Friday, when the LA Kings visit. That comes before a return match with the Jets in Winnipeg.