It was a tough week for one of the league’s best teams in the New York Islanders. They lost two of three games with the lone win coming in a shootout, snapping a seven-game losing streak to the Boston Bruins. The Islanders fell 8-3 on Tuesday against the Nashville Predators and 6-5 in a shootout loss on Saturday to the Anaheim Ducks.
Not only did they get swept in the season series against the Ducks, the Isles also allowed 15 goals in three games. New York looked to be on pace to win another William M. Jennings Trophy for allowing the fewest goals in the league – they still remain in first place, having allowed only 97 goals, but have played three fewer games than each of the teams behind them.
It was also notable that in Tuesday’s loss, goaltender Thomas Greiss was pulled. Later in the week, the Islanders rotation between Semyon Varlamov and Greiss came to an end with Varlamov starting the last two in a row. The team set a club record for going 33 straight games alternating goalies. While the end result wasn’t what the Islanders would have hoped for, they still had a few players stand out to earn a star this past week.
Third Star: Semyon Varlamov
While Varlamov was not at his best this week, he was still able to earn himself a star following his miraculous save against the Bruins. After the Bruins were cycling the puck in the offensive zone, Charlie McAvoy set up Anders Bjork with a wide-open net, but Varlamov was somehow able to get the glove over and make perhaps the save of the season.
He also made two of three stops in the shootout, including the final attempt on Brad Marchand. Coming into his start Saturday, Varlamov had won five straight decisions and managed to help the Islanders earn a point on Saturday despite falling for the first time this season in the shootout. He came into the game with the highest-save percentage in the shootout before he allowed two goals to the Ducks.
Second Star: Johnny Boychuk
Any time Johnny Boychuk gets to return to Boston, where he won a Stanley Cup, it normally brings the best out of him. He had his best game of the season on Thursday. With the Islanders down 1-0, Boychuk let go a rocket from the blue line through traffic that found the back of the net. It was only his second goal of the season.
The veteran was not done yet as he set up Mat Barzal roughly 15 minutes later to give the Islanders a 2-1 lead. He had a season-high of four shots. His play earned him some extra ice time on Saturday where Boychuk played 20-plus minutes for only the fourth time all season.
Despite all the goals given up, Boychuk was one of the lone defenders to have an even plus/minus. He currently has played in 33 games this season after he missed one earlier this season. With such a young core of defensemen, Boyckuk’s experience will be a huge factor come playoff time.
First Star: Mat Barzal
Every time Barzal comes on to the ice, he becomes much-watch television. His stickhandling and skating ability has to be amongst the best in the league, and added to his career season with two goals and an assist. He also had the game-winning goal in the shootout on a slick move to beat Tuukka Rask.
Barzal’s first goal came to off a pass from Boychuk where Barzal found himself all alone. He then scored again Saturday breaking free for a breakaway and scoring the third goal of the game against the Ducks. He nearly had the overtime winner as he had a mini breakaway in the 3-on-3, but John Gibson made a highlight-reel save to keep the game going.
Barzal also set up Anders Lee for the opening goal on Saturday and Barzal currently leads the team in goals with 15 and points with 30. He looks to be well on his way to breaking his career-high of 22 goals set in 2017-18 and will likely participate in his second straight all-star game later this season.
The Islanders will have one more game on Monday against the Columbus Blue Jackets before the Christmas break. They will return on Friday with a matchup in Chicago with the Blackhawks before a Sunday night contest with the Minnesota Wild.