The New York Islanders faced the Philadelphia Flyers in two games in consecutive days and came away with two victories in the stretch. The game at USB Arena was relatively one-sided with the Islanders taking control of the game early and ultimately, pulling away with a 4-1 victory while the game in Philadelphia went to a shootout, resulting in a 4-3 win and conversely, the Flyers ninth consecutive loss.
The Islanders might not have surpassed the Flyers in the standings and the shootout victory on the road gave the Metropolitan Division opponent a point. However, the Islanders now have 13 wins in 32 games and have won eight of their last 12 games. Moreover, the recent games have proven that the team has the pieces in place for a push for the playoffs and the games against the Flyers displayed the all-around talent the team possesses.
Josh Bailey & the Later Line Stepping Up
To open the scoring against the Flyers in the first game, Josh Bailey carried the puck into the offensive zone and set up Brock Nelson for an open shot, allowing the forward to net his 11th goal of the season. Bailey entered the Flyers series following a two-game stretch where he found the back of the net against the Devils but missed a clear scoring chance against the Capitals that cost the Islanders in a low-scoring 2-0 loss.
Against the Flyers, Bailey bounced back and was one of the top Islanders forwards in the two games. Along with the assist in the first game, Bailey scored in the second period of the second game as he skated near the net and collected a centering pass from Anthony Beauvillier. The veteran forward only has three goals on the season but with two goals and two assists in the last four games, the Islanders are receiving excellent contributions from their secondary forwards recently.
Along with Bailey, the Islanders are finding offense from the entire shift, notably with Beauvillier returning to form and finding the back of the net. Late in the third period of the Monday night game, the Islanders created a turnover in the offensive zone on the forecheck. With Nelson driving to the net with the puck, Beauvillier skated into the center of the offensive zone and collected the rebound to net the third goal in the 4-1 win, putting the game away.
The Islanders have recently seen their later lines step up and find the back of the net and pressure opposing defenses in the offensive zone. Along with taking pressure off of Mathew Barzal and Anders Lee, who combined have scored 17 of the team’s 74 goals, the recent scoring surge has added depth to the offense. The Islanders have four forward lines that can find the back of the net and pressure opposing defenses, something they lacked early on in the season.
Salo-Greene Defensive Pairing
23-year-old defenseman Robin Salo initially saw the ice this season out of necessity, with the injuries and COVID-19 leaving the defensive unit depleted. Following the mini-series against the Flyers, it’s hard seeing head coach Barry Trotz and the coaching staff leaving Salo out of the lineup.
Salo received an assist when his shot from the point was redirected by Casey Cizikas into the back of the net. However, the young defenseman created the goal with great skating at the blue line to find an open shot and then send the puck through traffic. It wasn’t long until Salo netted his first career goal as he fired a shot from the point a few minutes into the first period. The 23-year-old defenseman has already contributed great skating to the defensive unit but now is emerging as another scoring threat to add to the point, along with Noah Dobson, who leads the unit with five goals.
Islanders’ fans have to be particularly excited about Salo being paired alongside veteran Andy Greene. The 38-year-old Greene plays with instincts and experience that not only compensates for the often overaggressive and ambitious Salo but allows the young defenseman to learn how to play the position altogether. Last season, Dobson played alongside the veteran defenseman as he was maturing into an NHL starter and the Islanders are seeing similar success with another young skater.
Islanders Identity Line
Cizikas found the back of the net for the first time this season in Monday night’s win over the Flyers. While the goal was a deflected puck that Salo created from the point, the offensive production has been hard to ignore from the Islanders later line center. With the team trailing 3-2 in the final five minutes in Tuesday’s game, Scott Mayfield started up the rush and sent the puck on the net to Cizikas, who flipped the puck past Flyers goaltender Carter Hart to send the game to overtime.
Cizikas, along with the Islanders’ fourth line, isn’t known for their offense or their scoring production. However, Matt Martin, who scored the empty-net goal in the 4-1 victory as well as Cal Clutterbuck has given the Islanders a forward line that can impact all three zones and more importantly, create turnovers in the offensive zone to set up quick scoring chances. The fourth line or “Identity Line” continues to be a major factor in the team’s success, giving the team an advantage and helping overwhelm opposing forward units.
Other Notes From the Games Against the Flyers
The Islanders goaltending duo continued to stand out and lead the team, as both goaltenders have all season. Ilya Sorokin started the first game and saved 26 of the 27 shots in the decisive win. Sorokin easily could have shut out the Flyers if not for a puck deflecting off of Dobson that caught the 26-year-old goaltender off guard. Semyon Varlamov started the subsequent game and struggled, allowing three goals off of 34 shots. However, along with making 31 saves, Varlamov carried the team in the shootout, as the Flyers failed to score in nine rounds, giving the Islanders the 4-3 victory.
The Islanders have a few nights off before their next game, a Jan. 21 matchup against the Arizona Coyotes. However, the Islanders have plenty of games to make up and need to continue to pile on the wins to make up ground in the standing and make a 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.