The New York Islanders defeated the Boston Bruins 3-1 on Thursday night for their eighth win of the season. After a 2-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday, last night was a much-needed victory for an Islanders team desperate to make up ground after a slow start and hoping to build momentum during this homestand.
The win was only the Islanders’ second at UBS Arena this season. However, with the next three games at home, the Islanders look poised to rebound, and their win over the Bruins should remind head coach Barry Trotz of his team’s formula for success. Here are three takeaways from last night’s victory.
Varlamov Earns His First Win
Wins are a misleading stat for goaltenders, and this season alone has demonstrated that the Islanders’ goalies have played better than their record indicates. Notably, Ilya Sorokin has a .926 save percentage and a 2.47 goals-against average but only has seven wins in 18 starts, mostly because of the team’s offensive struggles early in the season.
Semyon Varlamov, however, has struggled, and his performance against the Bruins was a big win for the veteran goaltender who held the team’s lead throughout the game. He saved 40 of the 41 shots, allowing a single goal in the final minute of the game. As the Bruins created scoring chances around the net while trailing 2-0, the 33-year-old remained calm and, more importantly, covered up Boston’s initial shots to eliminate second chances.
Varlamov’s performance is a reminder that the Islanders have a great goaltender on their roster; he had a .929 save percentage and a 2.04 goals-against average on 1020 shots last season. It’s also a reminder that the team has a capable goaltending tandem that will help them gain ground in the Metropolitan Division standings. Sorokin is the starter and will continue to be moving forward, but performances like the one Varlamov put together against the Bruins will be crucial as the two netminders split starts to keep their young 25-year-old goaltender well rested for the long season ahead.
Islanders’ Identity Line Leads the Way
The loss to the Red Wings earlier in the week was the first game that Casey Cizikas, Cal Clutterbuck, and Matt Martin played on the same line since the Nov. 26 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins (1-0). Against the Bruins, the Islanders saw firsthand how the forwards can control the game with defensive play setting up the offense. They chipped the puck into the offensive zone and forced turnovers with hard hits along the boards; they created turnovers in the offensive zone on the forecheck and kept the puck in the offensive zone.
Clutterbuck scored the first goal of the game with a quick top-shelf shot past Bruins goaltender Linus Ullmark, and later, he scored the third and final goal into an empty net to cap off the 3-1 Islanders win. The first goal, in particular, showcased the Islanders’ forwards’ defensive ability as Martin created a turnover behind the net and centered the puck to Clutterbuck for the scoring chance. The 34-year-old NHL veteran is known for his forechecking and his ability to remove opponents from the puck with hard hits. But with five goals on the season, he has emerged as one of the better scorers on the team and will play a pivotal role in establishing a scoring presence from the bottom six.
Beauvillier Steps Up
After being a healthy scratch for the 4-2 win over the Devils, the Bruins game gave Anthony Beavuiller and the Islanders as a whole the perfect response. Throughout the game, Beauvillier created pressure in the offensive zone and generated scoring chances. He had four shots on goal, tied with Jean-Gabriel Pageau for the team lead, highlighted by a power-play goal in the second period to make it 2-0. The 24-year-old also forced turnovers on the backcheck and played well defensively overall, limiting the Bruins from finding quick opportunities on the odd-man rush after New York took the lead.
The Beauvillier goal also highlighted the Isles’ improved power-play unit, which set up open shots off strong puck movement, and highlighted Zach Parise‘s impact. On the goal, he screened Ullmark, which allowed Beauviller to find the back of the net. Parise contributed in all three zones throughout the game, helping the forward unit create turnovers and control play.
Other Islanders Notes
Last night, the Islanders played their second game without Mathew Barzal, who is on the Covid-19 list. The team is still adapting and trying to find a scoring presence without their top-line scorer. However, they faced a Bruins roster that is also dealing with the loss of multiple players who have tested positive, including key contributors Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and Craig Smith. New York might have caught a break, playing a depleted roster, but the matchup was one they needed to take advantage of, and they controlled the game from the opening puck drop.
Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November 2020 and covers the New York Islanders. In addition to covering the Islanders, Fink writes about the NHL at large and contributes as a weekly guest to The Hockey Writers Podcast. Follow Mike on Twitter @Finks_thoughts for more Islanders and general hockey insights.