For multiple reasons, the New York Islanders game against the New Jersey Devils looked poised to be a trap game. The Islanders were coming off three consecutive wins against Metropolitan Division opponents, and were facing a last-place Devils team eager to bounce back from a loss. Moreover, the team was starting Cory Schneider in the net with Semyon Varlamov getting the night off and Ilya Sorokin unable to return to the roster from injury.
After building a 3-0 lead, Islanders held on to defeat the Devils 4-3 to win their fourth game in a row. The Islanders have won 32 of their 68 games on the season, and trail the Washington Capitals by 11 points for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. The recent win, however, was a reminder that the team looks to finish the season strong and win games with players throughout the roster stepping up.
Pageau’s Hat Trick
The Islanders gave their backup goaltender the ideal start with a two-goal first period, taking advantage of a Devils’ defense that allows 3.68 goals per game. Jean-Gabriel Pageau found a quick scoring chance on the odd-man rush with Kyle Palmieri finding him open with a cross-ice pass on the rush, allowing for a quick shot to find the back of the net. Pageau was also the beneficiary of a scoring chance on the power play, with forward Anders Lee creating an open shot near the net, drawing the Devils’ skaters, and leaving the puck near the crease for a quick goal. Suddenly, the Islanders’ 29-year-old forward was on hat trick watch as the Islanders entered the second period with a comfortable 2-0 lead.
With the Islanders controlling the puck in the offensive zone, Pageau darted to the net and waited for the puck. Defenseman Adam Pelech carried the puck on the wing and centered the puck on the net, allowing the veteran center to tap the puck into the net for his first hat trick with the Islanders. Pageau entered the game with a goal-scoring drought, but playing alongside Palmieri and Josh Bailey he was creating scoring chances and finding open shots on net. Against the Devils, the hard work paid off with the natural hat trick.
Palmieri’s Kill Shot
The 3-0 lead the Islanders built quickly became a 3-2 game in the third period, with the Devils creating open shots and quickly finding the back of the net. The ice was tilted in the final period of play, and the Islanders were holding on to the lead against an opponent that had the momentum. With under six minutes left in the game, Palmieri carried the puck into the offensive zone and elevated the puck past the right pad of Devils goaltender Nico Daws for his 13th goal of the season.
The goal was a dagger that gave the Islanders a 4-2 lead, but more importantly, allowed the Islanders to regain their footing and settle in defensively. The Devils scored in the final two minutes to cut the lead to one, but the Islanders had all but sealed the victory with the Palmieri goal. The offense has been a strength of the team in the second half of the season, and one of the primary reasons has been Palmieri’s ability to find the back of the net with accurate shots to help boost the later forward lines.
Schneider Steps Up in The Net
After three consecutive starts from Varlamov, capped off with a 27-save shutout against the New York Rangers, the Islanders were forced to turn to Schneider, the former Devils goaltender to start in the net. Schneider has played all season in the American Hockey League (AHL) with the Bridgeport Islanders, but started his first game in over two years in the NHL. Throughout the game, the Devils pressured their former goaltender and generated shots on the net, but the 34-year-old goaltender stepped up and saved 27 of 30 shots. The veteran goaltender struggled at times, allowing three goals but ultimately the team received a strong performance in the net to help preserve the fourth consecutive victory.
Other Takeaways From Islanders’ Win
Pelech has been the Islanders’ best defensive defenseman throughout the season with remarkable plays in the defensive zone in particular. Against the Devils, the veteran defenseman also helped create offensively for the team as he distributed three assists in the game with great passes in both the neutral zone and the offensive zone.
The Islanders’ upcoming games will be on the road against the Dallas Stars, Carolina Hurricanes, and the St. Louis Blues. They will look to build on their four-game winning streak but will also look to continue to put together a strong end to the season.
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.