The New York Islanders played a tight game against their rival New York Rangers on Thursday night that was dominated by defense and even better goaltenders. The Islanders emerged with the 2-1 victory to earn two crucial points and gain ground on a Metropolitan Division opponent.
The Islanders have won four of their last five games and earned points in each of their last five games to make a strong push for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The team defeated the Rangers by giving them a taste of their own medicine, scoring on the power play, and using the same formula that has provided the New York rival with a successful season.
Sorokin Outduels Shesterkin
The game was billed as a battle between two of the best young goaltenders in the NHL. The Islanders have been carried throughout the season by 26-year-old Ilya Sorokin, who has a .926 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.30 goals-against average (GAA) on 1230 shots, while the Rangers’ 26-year-old goaltender, Igor Shesterkin, is receiving Vezina Trophy consideration with a .938 SV% and a 2.07 GAA on 1282 shots, carrying his team to one of the best records in the division.
The game exceeded expectations as both goaltenders stepped up and only allowed three goals combined. Shesterkin and Sorokin exchanged remarkable saves and displayed great movement in net, highlighted in the first period by Sorokin’s save on Artemi Panarin when he stopped the shot on an open net with his stick.
The highlight save was proof of a tight game and who won the goaltending battle. Sorokin made 29 saves and only allowed one goal — a Chris Kreider shot on the power play that caught him out of position with a quick pass on the odd-man rush. The Islanders needed Sorokin to lead them to victory, and he put together one of his best performances of the season.
Anders Lee Stays Hot
Anders Lee scored his 23rd goal of the season and seventh on the power play to give the Islanders an early lead in a game where goals were rare. The Islanders’ power-play unit established great puck movement on the man advantage, and quick passes from Noah Dobson and Mathew Barzal allowed Lee to find an open shot from the slot. The veteran forward went top-shelf and made his mark once again from the center of the offensive zone.
The Islanders’ captain has been one of the best goal-scorers in the league in recent weeks as he continues to find the puck near the net and pick apart goaltenders. Lee has scored in six consecutive games, including nine goals, highlighted by the hat trick against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The team has heavily relied on their top scorers to help turn around their season, and with Lee stepping up, the team suddenly looks poised to make a playoff push.
Palmieri Nets Game-Winner
The two teams were locked in a defensive battle heading into the final minutes of the game, and it looked like it would take a phenomenal play to decide the winner, especially with both goaltenders dialed in. Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock lobbed the puck on the net for Kyle Palmieri to score the game-winner with a great play. He tapped the puck out of the air into the top shelf, catching Shesterkin by surprise and giving the team a 2-1 lead with only 2:44 left in the game.
Palmieri has turned a corner since the beginning of the season and has emerged as one of the team’s best forwards, with 10 goals and 10 assists on the season. After scoring only one goal in his first 29 games, he is now playing more aggressively in the offensive zone and firing more shots on net, picking apart goaltenders with one of his primary strengths. His turnaround has boosted the Islanders’ offense altogether, helping the team find scoring throughout their forward unit.
Other Islanders Notes from the 2-1 Win
The game was highlighted by the goaltenders who were sharp and made multiple phenomenal saves. However, the Islanders’ defensive unit also stepped up, and while they allowed 30 shots on goal, they prevented the Rangers’ forwards from controlling the game with their speed and their defensemen from generating shots through traffic.
The Islanders’ next two games will be on back-to-back days against the Dallas Stars on Saturday and the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday. Both teams have struggled recently and might trade away some of their key players at the trade deadline, making it crucial for the Islanders to win and continue to make their late-season push for the playoffs.
Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November 2020 and covers the New York Islanders. In addition to covering the Islanders, Fink has written for multiple sports blogs and platforms covering the NHL, NFL, MLB, and college sports. Follow Mike on Twitter @Finks_thoughts for more Islanders and general hockey insights.