The New York Islanders have only played nine games this season but arguably put together their signature win of the season last night. Trailing 3-0 against the reigning Stanely Cup champion Colorado Avalanche, they scored five unanswered goals, including two in 17 seconds, to come back and win the game 5-4.
After defeating the Carolina Hurricanes 6-2 the night before, the Islanders’ win caps off a crucial back-to-back for the team, where they beat two of the best teams in the league on consecutive nights. Suddenly, with three wins in a row, they look like a different team.
A week ago, the sky was falling with the Islanders losing a back-to-back in Florida to drop to 2-4 on the season but now with a 5-4 record, the sky is the limit for this team. The most recent win in particular showed the ceiling for the Islanders and that they can compete for the Stanley Cup.
Barzal’s Big Assist
The game-tying goal was possible largely because of Mathew Barzal and his playmaking ability. The Islanders were pressuring the Avalanche with great offensive zone control and multiple shots on the net but they needed the kill shot. Barzal created a passing lane with his speed as a skater and then passed the puck to an open Scott Mayfield, who was near the crease for the quick goal.
Barzal has yet to score a goal this season but through nine games has made one of the biggest impacts in the forward unit. With 10 assists, he leads the team in points and his recent assist helped fuel the comeback in the 5-4 win. Furthermore, the pass displayed his ability to take over games and create open shots for the other skaters on the ice as the opposing skaters tried to stop him but allowed Mayfield to find open ice near the net.
This offseason, the Islanders gave Barzal an eight-year contract, betting on his playmaking ability and that he could become a star in the offense. Early on in the season, the team is already seeing the contract pay off with Barzal often carrying the offense. Along with leading the top line, he continues to make the other skaters on the ice better by providing them with open shots on the net.
Beauvillier Takes Advantage of Open Ice
While the Islanders’ game-tying goal displayed the ability of their top-line skater, the go-ahead goal, which gave them a 4-3 lead, showed how Anthony Beauvillier can thrive on offense and put together a strong season. Just seconds after the Islanders scored, Beauvillier carried the puck into the offensive zone and with open ice fired a shot past Avalanche goaltender Alexandar Georgiev for his third goal of the season. This season, the Islanders have seen him step up on the rush but also when he’s given space to create offense.
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In a 3-2 loss to the Florida Panthers, Beauvillier was a healthy scratch, a surprising decision but one that sent the message to the young forward that he needs to step up and play a big role in the forward unit. The recent game saw the exact response the Islanders were looking for from him as he gashed the Avalanche defense for a crucial goal in the comeback. If the Islanders are going to compete for the Stanley Cup, they will need a big season from Beauvillier, and nine games into the season, the team looks like they are receiving one.
Islanders Blue Line Fuels Comeback
The Avalanche looked in control of this game for the first 30 minutes with three quick goals and a commanding lead. However, the Islanders’ comeback started with a shot from arguably their best skater. Noah Dobson found an open shot in the offensive zone, and with the help of a Josh Bailey screen, found the back of the net with a strong slapshot. The goal put the Islanders on the board and gave Dobson his third goal of the season but also flipped the momentum of the game.
For the past two seasons, Dobson has been the spark for the Islanders at the point, creating open shots for the other skaters in the offensive zone and oftentimes finding the back of the net himself with quick shots on the net. His goal against the Avalanche proved that he can create scoring opportunities for the offense if the Islanders are struggling to score.
Dobson’s goal ignited the comeback and the Mayfield goal helped catapult it, tying the game with his quick shot near the crease past a surprised Georgiev. Mayfield playing deep in the offensive zone would be unusual in previous seasons, but under Lambert, it’s a common occurrence. Islanders defensemen have scored nine goals and added 14 assists in the first nine games of the season and their willingness to contribute to the offense has been a big emphasis from the coaching staff.
Lambert’s Style Starts to Pay Off
Against a fast-paced Avalanche team, the Islanders saw their new style of play pay off and prove why they can compete for a Stanley Cup this season. Lambert has had his mishaps through nine games, notably with the team taking a step back defensively, and is still learning the nuances of being a head coach in the NHL. The recent win showed why his style of play can lead the Islanders to a successful season.
The Avalanche gash opposing teams with their speed and puck-handling ability, turning defense into instant offense and running up the score with their high-powered offense. The Islanders matched the speed with a fast game of their own and took over the game with quick puck movement and effective passes into the offensive zone. In previous seasons, the Islanders would try to slow the game down to win, but under Lambert, it’s clear that they can skate with any opponent and play a faster game to come back from a deficit.
Furthermore, when the Islanders took the lead, they didn’t take their foot off the gas. While the chip and chase strategy remained intact, it wasn’t the only method for the team to run out the clock and seal the win. Instead, the Islanders continued to carry the puck into the offensive zone, maintain possession and apply pressure to the Avalanche, helping to secure the 5-4 victory.
Varlamov’s Rough Night
With the Islanders playing the second game of the back-to-back, Semyon Varlamov got the start after Ilya Sorokin started the night before. Varlamov stepped up in the third period and faced one of the game’s best offenses, which forced him to stop 37 shots, but regardless, he didn’t put together his best performance. The veteran goaltender allowed four goals in the game, including three in an eight-minute timeframe in the second period. The Islanders goaltending duo remains one of the best in the league and will help propel the team to the playoffs, but the 34-year-old goaltender has to bounce back in his upcoming starts.
Other Takeaways From Islanders’ Comeback Win
- After 28 successful penalty kills to start the season, the Islanders allowed their first power-play goal of the season. The penalty kill remains a strength of the team, and the streak came to an end against the league’s best power-play unit as the Avalanche have scored on 11 of their 28 opportunities.
- Eight forwards and four defensemen recorded a point in the game. It was a performance that showed the depth of the offense and one where if the players on the lower lines step up, the offense becomes tough to stop.
- Despite the Islanders having a successful night, the power play struggled, failing to score on all three opportunities. On the season, the team has only scored three goals on the power play in 28 opportunities, making the unit a glaring weakness on the roster this season.
- Georgiev put together a strong performance for the Avalanche, making 39 saves. However, the plethora of shots eventually got to him as he allowed four goals in the 5-4 game with the final goal being an empty netter from Brock Nelson.
What’s Next for the Islanders
After playing three games in four days, the Islanders will receive some rest before their next stretch of games. However, they will start a three-game road trip with games against the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues, and Detroit Red Wings. All three teams are off to promising starts to the season and could easily humble an Islanders team that is entering the upcoming stretch with a lot of confidence.
The Islanders faced arguably their toughest back-to-back of the season and came away with two victories, moving to 5-4 on the season. Now, they need to keep up the strong performances and continue piling up the wins to improve their record within a competitive Metropolitan Division.
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, looking at general topics from potential cities for NHL relocation to arena traditions throughout the league. Follow Mike on Twitter @Finks_thoughts for more Islanders and general hockey insights.