A high-wire night, a series of line blending as the Isles deal with another injury and an overall entertaining, nailbiting game finished with Mat Barzal and Noah Dobson combining for their fourth points of the night to put the Toronto Maple Leafs away in overtime, 4-3 on Long Island.
This was a big win for the Islanders, who’ve been slumping and are back for two home games against tough opponents this week before heading back on the road and into the throes of North America’s polar vortex.
It was also a bit of deja vu, as the Islanders beat the same team in overtime on Long Island exactly one month ago, just minutes after the Leafs emptied the bench to celebrate achieving great individual success.
Casey Cizikas’ injury in the loss to the Canucks caused Lane Lambert to do a more significant line shuffle (no Cal Clutterbuck at center this time) — one he reversed in the second period and then re-reversed for the third. It included separating Mat Barzal from Bo Horvat and moving “the kid who won the Calder,” as a DOS-language former captain once called him, to shift back to center.
It was a smooth transition back to the middle for Barzal, who admitted to enjoying it on a post-game interview with ESPN. He primarily centered Kyle Palmieri and Simon Holmstrom while J-G Pageau slid down into Cizikas’ spot on the Identity Line.
Meanwhile, Oliver Wahlstrom...did not get a lot of ice time as the warm body slotting in for Cizikas’ absence. Logged 8:03 overall, was minus-1 (he was on for the first goal, not active though not directly at fault) and...I’m not sure Lambert knows what to do with him. #SignParise.
A big two points, but also a big comeback for the Isles, who scored first (Palmieri’s tenth, from Barzal and Dobson) but then gave up three consecutive goals, including two to NHL leader Auston Matthews in a 2:14 span of the second period.
Those put the Isles down 3-1, and you’re forgiven for having doomsday thoughts (I sure did): The Isles just kind of let Matthews hang out above the crease for his first goal to make it 2-1, and Noah Dobson was stripped in his own zone, allowing Matthews to walk in alone on his second. But Alex Romanov got one back quickly, 1:38 later, when Alex Romanov took a Barzal overlap to skate down through the left circle and sizzle a high shot past Martin Jones.
ROMANOV FINDS THE TOY DEPARTMENT pic.twitter.com/5dzPuI4s5k— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) January 12, 2024
Barzal and Dobson then combined to set up the slightest of Bo Horvat deflections on the power play to tie it 3-3 at 13:51 of the second.
That was the last goal until early in overtime, but these teams did not play for the tie. Each side pushed, and pushed, and line-and-combo matched all the way to the dying seconds of regulation, a refreshing departure from the NHL norm.
The Leafs won back possession after the opening OT faceoff when Mitch Marner pressured Dobson and wouldn’t let up as he skated back into his own zone to shake the gnat off. But the Leafs forced a long pass that turned into an icing. On the ensuing faceoff, Dobson casually found Barzal back door, where he redirected it in with the backhand off the far post.
This is just a fantastic sequence from Dobson and Barzal pic.twitter.com/YMkaXWnzfZ— Rob Taub (@RTaub_) January 12, 2024
POV you’re on the glass watching Barzal’s OT winner. pic.twitter.com/h5t4E9AHHF— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) January 12, 2024
Man, this sport. Even when you’re frustrated and the team (or the coach, or the GM, or some guy from Sweden) pisses you off, you get cathartic nights like this one. At 3-1, thinks looked potentially miserable, but instead every highlight afterward was either a huge thrill or a panic-inducing near-miss for either side.
I was really hoping for some excuse to do some “Mike Reilly vs. Morgan Rielly [sic}” stupid spelling humor or something, but neither featured on the scoresheet, while Reilly The Proper Speller fired wide enough to make me question the spelling of his name.
Romanov also said win was important for Sorokin, who wasn’t happy with his performances the last two games.— Andrew Gross (@AGrossNewsday) January 12, 2024
Horvat on Dobson:— Stefen Rosner (@stefen_rosner) January 12, 2024
“He’s making plays out there. And not only offensively, but he's been really solid defensively this year. That’s one of the big reasons he should be at the All-Star Game, in my opinion. Hopefully everybody goes out there and votes for him…”#Isles
So. Now it’s off to Nashville Saturday night, followed by a swing through Minnesota, Winnipeg and Chicago right as the Midwest takes the brunt of the worst cold spell so far this winter.
That’s hockey weather though.