For one of the rare times this season, the New York Islanders went through a tough stretch, but still managed to pull out a divisional win against the Columbus Blue Jackets Saturday night.
New York earned a 2-0 win at home after being swept in their west coast road trip with losses to the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings this past week. As the Islanders are more than a quarter of the way through the season, they remain five points back of the Washington Capitals for first place in the Metropolitan Division with three games in hand.
Third Star: Anders Lee
It was a tough stretch for Anders Lee prior to Saturday night versus the Blue Jackets. He was able to break out, though, with the game-winning goal. It took a little over a minute for Lee to score top-shelf on a beautiful play set up by Josh Bailey and Mat Barzal. He came close to a second goal, but was stopped by goaltender Elvis Merzlikins in tight.
Lee, who was caught with a few high sticks early in the game, took a big hit from David Savard that caused him to leave the game later on.
This season, Lee has seven goals despite none on the power play. For much of the season, the Islanders have drawn very few penalties and once again went without one on Saturday. While that has definitely played a role in the lack of goals, Lee generally scores most of them with the man-advantage. It’s rare to see him score a goal as he did versus Columbus that didn’t come right in front of the goaltender.
Second Star: Mat Barzal
Lee and Barzal’s weeks were pretty similar, as they each scored a goal, but Barzal figured into both goals against the Blue Jackets. With the Islanders leading 1-0, Adam Pelech sent Barzal in on a breakaway, and the young superstar backhanded it into the net for his 10th goal of the season.
With that score, he continues to lead the teams in goals, two ahead of Brock Nelson. He also has done a terrific job this season of playing against the opposition’s top defenders and is on pace for his best season yet.
First Star: Semyon Varlamov
Semyon Varlamov was not sharp Monday night against the Ducks, allowing four goals on 30 shots, but he erased those memories with a win against the Blue Jackets.
The Islanders had been rotating goalies all season, as neither Thomas Greiss nor Varlamov have started in back-to-back games. However, after Greiss went down with an illness late in the first period on Saturday, Varlamov took over and made 30 stops in 45 minutes to complete the shutout.
He made two saves in the game’s final minutes on the lone power play for either team, and made a big stop on Oliver Bjorkstrand early in the third period.
While it does not appear that Greiss will miss significant time, the Islanders don’t have much depth in the American Hockey League. Starting goaltender for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, Christopher Gibson, is out with an injury and Jared Coreau has just one win in 10 games.
While the Islanders feel like they will eventually have a future number one goaltender in Ilya Sorokin, the Russian is in the last year of his contract in the Kontinental Hockey League and will make a decision afterward if he is ready to play in the NHL. He has been of the best goaltenders to ever play in that league and will hopefully bring that same success to Long Island.
They will be back out on the ice Tuesday night with their first meeting of the year with the Montreal Canadiens after starting the new week off with a win against the Detroit Red Wings. Following that, they come home for one game against the Vegas Golden Knights and then take on the Dallas Stars to close out the week on Saturday.