The New York Islanders put together arguably their best win of the season when they defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets 6-0 on Thursday night. The Islanders led 1-0 at the end of the first period but controlled all three zones throughout the game and won their 22nd of the season.
With the Islanders struggling as they approach the deadline with a below .500 record, it’s more likely they will trade away veterans rather than acquire them in the coming week. However, the win against the Blue Jackets not only allowed them to make up ground in the Metropolitan Division but also gain ground in the Eastern Conference, leaving the window to make a push for a playoff spot still open.
Lee’s Hat Trick
Anders Lee was placed on the long-term injured reserve with a torn ACL 364 days ago. The Islanders missed their captain in the second half of last season and lacked a scorer who could capitalize on pucks in the offensive zone, which cost the team in the Stanley Cup Semifinal against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Lee is back on the ice this season, and not only has he recovered from the injury, but he has also re-established himself as one of the best players on the team. The first two goals against the Blue Jackets helped put the game away, building on the 2-0 lead, as the 31-year-old forward skated into the slot and anticipated the open shot. Islanders defenseman Adam Pelech found Lee in the slot for his first goal, and the second goal came with Anthony Beauvillier forcing Blue Jackets goaltender Joonas Korpisalo to make a big save in front, exposing the top shelf for an easy second-chance goal.
When the game was already out of reach, and the Islanders were on the power play with only seconds left in the game, everyone on the ice knew who needed to find the back of the net, and the shift found Lee in the center of the offensive zone who then completed the first hat trick of his 10-year career. Lee has scored 19 goals this season, second-most on the team, and continues to make his mark near the net, finishing scoring chances and picking apart opposing goaltenders.
Sorokin’s 6th Shutout
Ilya Sorokin has emerged as the Islanders’ starting goaltender this season, starting 37 of 55 games. The 26-year-old is also putting together a respectable second season in the NHL with a .923 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.38 goals-against average (GAA) on 1130 shots, and he has often led the team to victory this season. The recent game wasn’t an extraordinary challenge for Sorokin, who only faced 25 shots, but the young goaltender was sharp from the opening puck drop and stopped multiple quick scoring chances from the Blue Jackets.
Sorokin earned his sixth shutout of the season and never allowed the Blue Jackets to climb back into the game or muster any momentum. The Islanders built a comfortable 4-0 lead by the end of the second period and looked poised to win the game regardless, but Sorokin was dialed in on earning the shutout and continued to make remarkable saves on an opposing offense that averages 3.28 goals per game.
After Semyon Varlamov started the game against the Colorado Avalanche on Monday, Sorokin was well-rested and focused against the Blue Jackets and built off the 31-save performance in the 2-1 win over the St. Louis Blues on March 5. The Islanders have relied on their goaltender throughout the season, and the recent shutout was another reminder that they have someone who will carry the team for years to come.
Bailey Snaps Out of Slump
Josh Bailey has received a lot of criticism this season, understandably, as the 32- year-old forward only scored three goals entering the game against the Blue Jackets. Moreover, the veteran forward was missing easy shots and failing to take advantage of scoring chances in the offensive zone, resulting in an 18-game scoreless drought.
Against Columbus, Bailey received a great centering pass in the offensive zone from Kyle Palmieri, who forced a turnover with a strong forecheck, and was left all alone with only Korpisalo to stop him. The Islanders veteran elevated the puck past the goaltender’s pad and scored his first goal since Jan. 18 against the Philadelphia Flyers. It was a much-needed marker for the forward, breaking his slump to give his team a 2-0 lead and starting a three-goal period to put the game out of reach.
Other Notes from the Islanders Win
Sorokin led the way with the shutout performance, but the Islanders’ defensive unit stepped up following a tough loss against the Avalanche when the unit struggled and allowed five goals. The defense prevented the Blue Jackets from creating scoring chances off odd-man rushes and used the speed of the forward unit to their advantage, with the defensemen stepping up at the blue line and forcing the opponent to chip the puck into the offensive zone. Moreover, the Islanders had a remarkable night on the penalty kill, with Casey Cizikas being sent to the penalty box four times, but the Blue Jackets were unable to capitalize.
The Islanders scored their first goal of the game with the help of the skillful Brock Nelson, who caught the puck in the air and split to the Blue Jackets’ defense to find the back of the net. He scored his 22nd goal of the season to lead the team, and the goal helped give the Islanders a lead that they didn’t surrender for the rest of the game. The next two games to cap off the homestand are against the Winnipeg Jets and the Anaheim Ducks, two teams that have struggled this season but are looking to make a 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.