As we approach the halfway mark of the 2023-24 season, it’s looking like it will be a dogfight for playoff spots in the East, and all of the recent bubble contenders in the Metro Division are in the hunt.
So with the Islanders on a dangerous road trip out West, it was pretty important that they got two points against the most beatable opponent in the Arizona Coyotes. A 5-1 win that broke open in the third period was just what they needed, with a great performance from the top line leading the way.
Bo Horvat scored twice (once on the power play), Anders Lee sniped from the slot after a Mathew Barzal forecheck forced a turnover, and the entire line’s forecheck helped lead to Barzal’s setup of Mike Reilly for a goal.
Julien Gauthier, continuing to make his case for regular bottom-six duty, scored his fifth goal of the season off the counterattack rush down the left wing — less than a minute after Lee’s goal — to crack open a close game in the third.
It’s been an interesting season thus far. Fans were calling for Lane Lambert’s head after several frustrating blown lead, but the offense has continued to tick and those calls have died down as the team’s performance has appeared to improve along with its results.
They’ve had some extended time — but also some of their best success — with injuries to key defensemen Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech, who even when healthy have not had their best season.
Likewise Ilya Sorokin, who’s been healthy but not the all-world stopper we’ve come to expect and who we figured would be key to any success they had.
Thursday night in Tempe was a calming night, with the power play getting a key early goal and the top line doing a lot of the damage to pull away in the third.
“I thought that both Bo and ‘Barzy’; were skating determined, just very, very solid, steady play away from the puck both of them,” New York coach Lane Lambert said. “As a result, they had some opportunities and created some chances and got some numbers.”
Sorokin, by the way, made 25 saves in the win and he’s likely to be called on each game while Semyon Varlamov tends to his latest (re?)injury.
Meanwhile, the traveling and/or local Islanders fans were noticeable in the Coyotes’ small temporary (for them) college arena, complete with a “Let’s Go Islanders” serenade as the clock wound down on the blowout.
The road trip concludes Saturday in Vegas. This win bumps them back into a tie for second in the Metro with 46 points and 38 games played. It feels like it will be this way the rest of the year, so any points the Isles can scrape together in Vegas are most welcome.