After losing five games in a row and falling apart to close out the season, the New York Islanders put together a much-needed rebound performance on Tuesday. The Islanders scored four unanswered goals to defeat the Washington Capitals 4-1 on the road.
The Islanders’ record improved to 36-34-10 and the win doesn’t affect the team in the NHL standings as they were already eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs following a 4-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. However, the recent victory was a reminder of what made the team successful in recent seasons and more importantly, how it will rebound next season.
Islanders’ Defensemen Adding Offense
The two power-play goals for the Islanders were a reminder of what could have been. With two shots from the point finding the back of the net, they were reminded of the firepower they possess on the blue line that helps open up the offense.
Ryan Pulock scored the first goal for the Islanders with a slap shot from the point that Capitals goaltender Ilya Samsonov couldn’t pick up. It was only his fifth goal of the season but the veteran defenseman has now scored in consecutive games, finding the back of the net in the 5-2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes as well. The 27-year-old defenseman missed 11 weeks early on in the season with a lower-body injury and the recent game was a reminder of what the Islanders missed when he was out of the lineup.
The Islanders found their second goal of the game in the third period with a shot from their most reliable scoring defenseman throughout this season. Noah Dobson found an open shot with great puck movement in the offensive zone and scored his 13th goal of the season. The 22-year-old has already established himself as one of the best young defensemen in the game and the Islanders can often rely on him to carry the power-play unit from the point.
The Islanders’ defensive unit was a strength this season and has been since Barry Trotz became the head coach in 2018. The win over the Capitals once again proved how the team’s defensemen can impact all three zones and help out a struggling offense from the blue line.
Islanders Penalty Kill
The Islanders killed four penalties against the Capitals and prevented them from finding the back of the net on the man advantage. The Capitals’ power-play unit has struggled this season and the team was playing without Alexander Ovechkin, their top scorer, who is dealing with an upper-body injury. However, the penalty kill stepped up and prevented them from getting shots on the net while even establishing an offensive zone presence at the other end.
To cap off the great penalty-killing performance, Casey Cizikas found the back of the net with a remarkable goal that gave the Islanders a 3-1 lead in the third period. He pressured Samsonov with the forecheck and stole the puck from defenseman Dmitry Orlov to score with a quick shot. The shorthanded goal was the 31-year-old forward’s 10th goal of the season and was once again a result of pressure in the offensive zone and allowing great defensive play to set up a scoring chance.
Sorokin’s Strong Start
Ilya Sorokin has emerged as one of the elite young goaltenders in the NHL, with seven shutouts highlighting his breakout season. He had struggled in his three previous starts, allowing three goals or more in each one, resulting in three losses. However, the performance against the Capitals was a reminder of the 26-year-old goaltenders’ ability to step up in the net and eliminate opposing offenses.
Sorokin made 32 saves and only allowed one goal in the first period. Following the early goal, the young goaltender was dialed in and blanked the Capitals’ offense for the rest of the game, winning his 26th game of the season. He now has a .927 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.35 goals-against average (GAA) on 1,610 shots this season and the recent performance looked like the finishing statement to a remarkable season for the Islanders goaltender. In a difficult season for the team, one where they took a step back and missed the playoffs, they have found their goaltender of the future who will keep them competitive for years to come.
Other Notes From Islanders Win
Late in the third period, Anders Lee scored his 27th goal of the season with a quick shot from the boards that gave the Islanders a commanding 4-1 lead. The Islanders captain is finding his rhythm offensively and stepping up in the second half of the season has been a pleasant surprise, especially since Lee missed the second half of last season with a torn ACL. The veteran forward has returned to form and once again is adding to the offense.
The Islanders close out the season with two games at USB Arena against the Capitals and the Tampa Bay Lightning. They hope to finish the season strong but will have to do so against two of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.
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.