Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The New York Islanders hosted a team who was playing in the second half of a back-to-back and was starting a bad goalie and then let them walk all over them for long stretches and didn’t threaten their bad goalie nearly enough, resulting in a regulation loss.
That does sound familiar, right? That’s because they just played an eerily similar game a week and a half ago against the Ottawa Senators and lost in regulation to ECHL goalie Kevin Mandolese.
Tonight, the Islanders hosted the Los Angeles Kings. To their credit, the Kings are a much better team, with much better structure, than the Senators. They suffocated the Islanders despite playing two consecutive nights, strangling the neutral zone and preventing most last-gasp attempts to dump and retrieve the puck on the forecheck. There’s a reason they’re probably going to the playoffs in spite of their weak goaltending.
Yet, against a supposedly tired team, the Islanders still managed only 18 shots, and Matt Martin had five of them. They were getting outshot 24-8(!) when the Kings went up 3-0 in a 5:34 stretch in the second period. None of what I wrote in the last two sentences is going to cut it in a playoff race, showing how difficult it may be to navigate this chase with all the injured players forcing them into this roster. Mathew Barzal’s speed and skill combined with Bo Horvat’s knack for creating danger probably would have helped in a game like this, considering what Horvat has been able to do for Martin’s game.
The first Kings goal was an unfortunate own goal, but it took a previously locked-in Ilya Sorokin out of his zone, and the Islanders unraveled and let them get two more quickly. The Isles worked to get two more against a team in the Kings who have given up quite a few leads this season, and they even got a fluky own goal to balance the scales of justice, but they didn’t pressure nearly enough against 2023, .878 save percentage Jonathan Quick. Man, it would have been really nice if they managed to steal a point from that game.
By points alone, the Islanders remain in the first wild card spot with 67 of them. But after the Buffalo Sabres tonight defeated the Florida Panthers in regulation, both the Sabres and the Detroit Red Wings now have 64 points with five games in hand, and the Panthers have the same amount of points with one game in hand.
Points in your hand may be worth more than games in hand in the bush—especially when you peek at how compacted and rife with difficult opponents Buffalo and Detroit’s schedules will be having to make up five extra games—but the Islanders will still need the help.
One way to do it would be to win all four games coming out of the trade deadline, preferably in regulation, since the schedule shows: home vs. Detroit and Buffalo, visiting the reeling Pittsburgh Penguins, and back at home against the selling Washington Capitals.
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Casey Cizikas’ line worked for some early offensive zone time and a couple of chances toward the net, including a tip for Arnaud Durandeau. In fact, all four lines had good energy to start the game, keeping the puck mostly in the Kings’ zone, albeit without much to show for it.
One chance saw Otto Koivula get a stretch pass for a potential breakaway, but Alex Edler caught up to him. On another one, Bo Horvat and Matt Martin found space off the rush, and Horvat fed Martin for a deflection in the slot, creating a rebound that Horvat nearly grabbed before Quick covered it.
After the first commercial break, we went around seven or eight minutes without a whistle, missing two scheduled commercial breaks. So the two strong neutral zone teams were able to play that game for the first half of that non-stop play, but the game opened up as that span passed without the extra rest. Both teams traded chances, with the Horvat line and the Cizikas line looking strong for the Islanders.
Out of the next TV timeout, Sorokin, who to that point looked rock solid, used his stick to break up a dangerous opportunity for the Kings. In four of the last five minutes of the period, Los Angeles completely locked up the neutral zone. However, Durandeau was able to chip the puck past the Kings’ defenders and chased down his own clear, allowing Cizikas and Hudson Fasching to generate a chance.
Back the other way, Kevin Fiala hit Cizikas up high and got called for a penalty that carried over to the second period. By the end, LA had taken control, outshooting the Isles 12-5. As it turned out, Martin had four(!) (4(!)) of those Islanders shots.
There was nothing frightening during the remainder of the power play. The Islanders didn’t even really set up, and that kill boosted the Kings. But when the first line regained the puck, Horvat put a good shot on Quick that created a dangerous rebound opportunity for Martin. Then, it all went badly.
Los Angeles got on the board with flukier goals I’ve seen, and the Islanders came apart at the seams. The Kings pinned the Islanders in their own zone for quite some time, yet Sorokin stood tall through most of it. It took Alex Romanov in close accidentally smacking it into his own net to beat the Isles’ goalie. He was battling with Philip Danault in tight, where Danault tipped a shot that Sorokin stopped. But the puck popped into the air. Danault went swinging at it, and Romanov tried to knock Danault’s stick away, instead hitting the puck.
Just a minute and a half later, Sebastian Aho missed on a pinch after the puck hit the linesman’s skate, allowing Rasmus Kupari and Arthur Kaliyev to break out on a two-on-one with Noah Dobson not even set up. Kaliyev finished off Kupari’s pass for a 2-0 lead.
And then Cizikas immediately took a cross-checking penalty. The Kings have the league’s second-best power play and they looked like it for the first half, but the Islanders killed it off. That didn’t stop the Kings from taking a 3-0 lead back at even strength, though, as the Islanders were still scrambling in their own zone. Gabriel Vilardi was wide open to one-time Alex Iafallo’s dish; it fluttered off Sorokin’s blocker. In just 5:34, the Islanders fell into a deep hole. As a reminder, the Kings played last night, not the Islanders.
They woke up a bit, enough for Kyle Palmieri to draw a penalty as his line went to work. The first unit kept shooting until the puck went in, with Dobson’s point try bounced through traffic and behind Quick. 3-1 now with just over three minutes to go in the frame.
Noah Dobson with a blast from the blue line to get the #Isles on the board pic.twitter.com/8QpDr4dY3A— Isles on MSGSN (@IslesMSGN) February 25, 2023
With less than two minutes left in the period, Nelson tripped Anze Kopitar to put the Kings back on a man advantage. It would have carried over to the third if not for Danault setting a pick against Scott Mayfield and heading to the box for interference.
The four-on-four started the period before the Islanders got forty seconds of a power play. They did not convert, however. And then Dobson rifled a shot off Horvat’s ankle, knocking him to the ice for a while and rendering him unable to put weight on that leg as he skated off. Incredibly, he returned to the ice on his next shift, but Thomas Hickey reported from the benches that it took quite a bit of effort to get to that point.
The Kings did not appear too tired from last night’s game to lock it down, preventing the Islanders in long stretches from getting the puck deep to forecheck. Horvat, who along with Anders Lee was now skating with Durandeau instead of Martin, did get a one-on-one chance that Quick stopped, and he later intercepted and backhanded a puck from the crease that Quick may have just clipped.
It seemed as though LA had choked the life out of the game, trapping the Islanders in their zone and forcing them to ice it. But after they recovered the puck, Pelech dogged out a rush to the goal line and flung a centering pass off Matt Roy’s skate and into the net. 3-2 now with more than four minutes left.
Pelech fights for the zone and the hockey gods return the #Isles own goal from the 1st pic.twitter.com/UiBTkZAEob— Isles on MSGSN (@IslesMSGN) February 25, 2023
The Islanders pressed hard and then pulled Sorokin when they got a chance to go six-on-five, but the Kings defended it well. They iced it with 21.4 seconds left, and the Islanders called timeout to rest their six-man unit. The Isles threatened a bit but couldn’t convert and fell in regulation 3-2.
Pre-Game Tribute to the Golden Era of Islanders Hockey (If You Were Born After 1993)
MSGSN had a wonderful pre-game tribute to the 2010s and early 2020s on 2010s night, narrated by Brendan Burke.
They rightly glossed over the early half because it wasn’t pretty, but they covered the move to Barclays Center, their first playoff series win in 23 years, and the new era of contending in the foreground of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The John Tavares (tuh-VAIR-ez) winner still gives me goosebumps, as does Ryan Pulock’s game-saving block and Anthony Beauvillier’s Game 6 OT winner to close out the Coliseum.
The Islanders have played their final home game before the trade deadline. They’ll head out for a quick road trip to the northern midwest.
They just opened the season series against the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday, and they’ll close it out Sunday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. in Manitoba. Then, they’ll visit the Minnesota Wild for an 8:00 p.m. start on Tuesday.
That’ll be it until next Saturday, and the trade deadline is next Friday at 3:00 p.m., so they’ll have a few days to think about it. We’ll see if Lou decides to, or is able to, bolster this roster.
I hope all these words were enough of my own insight for Moon Bars.