Not only was tonight’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers Bo Horvat’s debut with the New York Islanders, but it was also a must-win game for the Islanders, as most of them will be if they want to make the playoffs. This week, especially, offers up some winnable games, and they kind of need to win all of them.
Off to a good start, both Horvat and the Islanders. Kyle Palmieri scored a power play goal—yes, those are allowed—Mathew Barzal scored the game-winner, and Semyon Varlamov gave up only one goal as the Islanders topped the Flyers, 2-1.
Horvat did not record a point in his first game as an Islander, but he looked every bit the part of a first-line center with some two-way jam and faceoff-winning ability. He had three dangerous shots and/or shot attempts by my count, as well as a tip of a point shot off the crossbar.
Noah Dobson returned to the lineup after missing four games, and Hudson Fasching came back after missing six. Here’s how they lined up:
#Isles in warmups— Andrew Gross (@AGrossNewsday) February 6, 2023
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Horvat’s line started the game and immediately generated offense. Horvat registered a shot attempt and later switched off for Nelson as the surprise man into the zone. His chance nearly crossed the goal line courtesy of a Carter Hart kick, but was prevented from actually crossing by Ivan Provorov. Nelson’s line then hemmed in Philadelphia even more, forcing Kevin Hayes to whack the puck over the glass and give the Islanders their first look at Horvat on the power play. You can tell he’s good at finding soft areas of the ice where he can catch a pass. However, the Islanders’ power play is still the Islanders’ power play, so all he had to show for it was a fun, between-the-legs pass. Later in the period, Horvat took a pass from Josh Bailey off the rush and fired hard at Hart, but the Philly goalie got the save.
The Islanders conceded a little too much in their own zone, but that’s the game they’re playing, it seems. It didn’t lead to too many shots against, though. For example, Travis Konecny broke Alex Romanov’s ankles on his way to the net, but he completely missed James van Riemsdyk with his pass.
Back to the offense: Zach Parise, who earlier nearly tucked in a puck short side after hacking at Hart, caught a stretch pass with about eight minutes left. He tried to go cross-ice for his similarly tired linemate, Simon Holmstrom. The pass was broken up, but Holmstrom batted the loose, bouncing puck out of the air. The fourth line took a shift before the first line around the 6:00 mark, and we got a glimpse of the magic of which Barzal and Horvat might together be capable. Bailey got the puck to Barzal low by the net, and Barzal sent a behind-the-back pass up to Horvat cruising into the slot. His shot banked off Barzal and the unknowing Hart.
On his next shift, Parise got boarded by Scott Laughton for another Isles’ power play. Horvat did not win the faceoff, but he helped create his unit’s lone dangerous chance as he and others barreled toward the net. The second unit got trapped in their own end for most of their shift—until they scored. They finally got up ice and entered the zone. Bailey found Kyle Palmieri cutting in, and he went bar down. They had been 0/26 on the power play. 1-0 Islanders.
Kyle Palmieri on the Power Play pic.twitter.com/SS8nuPpHjY— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) February 7, 2023
They almost made it 2-0 on the top line’s last shift of the period, with Horvat picking off a pass in the defensive zone and leading Barzal on the breakout. Barzal and Bailey played catch, and Barzal fired dangerously at Hart.
In this frame, the Islanders had to kill their first penalty, a Sebastian Aho minor. But they managed to kill it off and keep the Flyers at bay. However, while the Islanders dominated the first, the Flyers controlled play to start the second period. They had the period’s first five shots.
Yet, the Islanders added to their lead. While Barzal was out with Nelson on a change, they were in the corner digging away. Nelson came away with it and found Dobson cutting down. Barzal went toward the net and deflected Dobson’s shot-pass behind Hart for a 2-0 lead.
Goal #13 for #13 pic.twitter.com/ZYgUTHLRkS— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) February 7, 2023
And thank goodness they did pad their lead because they gave a goal right back to the Flyers. Tony DeAngelo noticed some loose coverage, firing toward the net, and Nicolas Deslauriers caught the Isles sleeping for a tip-in. 2-1 Islanders, now.
The Islanders went right back on the power play, their third of the evening, but they barely ever got set up. Late in the period, Horvat tipped a puck on goal that just missed beating Hart, and then the Flyers came close to tying it with less than a minute remaining. Varlamov got pulled out of his crease by the chance, but Scott Mayfield kept the puck out with a stick save
The third period began much like the second, with the Flyers holding onto the puck. That changed when an intentional offsides put the Flyers in their own zone for the equivalent of a post-icing faceoff, allowing Lane Lambert to roll the top line against tired Philly players. Horvat just missed his first goal as an Islander as he tipped a shot from Ryan Pulock off the crossbar.
Back the other way, Varlamov made a huge save on Laughton on a two-on-one rush. Later on, Palmieri got called for slashing on what was a very weak call. In response, the Islanders put on a clinic: The only shot on goal was for Casey Cizikas in a one-on-four time-killing rush.
There were some hairy moments when Matt Martin replaced Bailey for a shift on the top line following the penalty kill. At one point, the puck bounced in the air through the crease, but someone’s stick swatted it away. In the same shift, Horvat’s stick broke. The Islanders managed to escape scot-free.
John Tortorella pulled his goalie with just under three minutes remaining in regulation, and the move created some chaos. But the Islanders never looked out of sorts and frequently recovered the puck. They didn’t kill it with an empty-net goal, but they killed the clock and walked away with a 2-1 win, two more points and a tie with the Pittsburgh Penguins in points for the final playoff spot (though they actually have it on points percentage).
Notes and Thoughts
- Bo Horvat’s first game was as advertised. No goals or points yet, but he looked good on both ends of the ice. He had that glimpse of the future chance early in the game with Barzal, the one he put off Barzal’s leg, and he had the chance with Bailey, as well. He also tipped a point shot off the crossbar. As he gets more familiar with his new team, his difference will be felt in the hockey product.
- But Horvat’s impact on the rest of the team was felt immediately. A big trade like that, one for a big star, is a huge jolt to the team—they said it themselves. It definitely looked like it in the first period, too.
- The next two periods weren’t exactly pretty, but they got the job done and got the two points they could not afford to lose. Kyle Palmieri scored a power play goal, and we’re happy to have him back. Mathew Barzal had the game-winner on a tweener shift where the rest of his linemates hadn’t made it onto the ice yet.
- Noah Dobson’s return was critical, as the puck moved north a lot more with him taking shifts. Not to mention the receipt of Nelson’s dish and his own gorgeous shot-pass to Barzal for the goal.
- Semyon Varlamov started his second straight game, but the last one was over a week ago. It makes sense, as Ilya Sorokin just got back from All-Star festivities. It wasn’t much of a break for him. But Varlamov looked excellent in his stead; the only shot that got past him was a perfect tip.
- Brock Nelson assisted on Barzal’s winner and extended his point streak to seven games, matching a career-high.
- It’s good to be back. I wrote many times as January ended that the break was much needed. And it was. But with Lou making the Horvat blockbuster so early into the break, I was ready for the Islanders to come back early. Glad that my patience paid off.
After a long layoff, there’s no rest for the wicked, as the Islanders are right back at it tomorrow night at UBS Arena, hosting Jordan Eberle and the Seattle Kraken at 7:30 p.m. for Bo Horvat’s first home game as an Islander.