The New York Islanders picked up right where they left off from their previous game. After beating the Anaheim Ducks 7-1, they were looking to build momentum and win their second game in a row in front of the home crowd at UBS Arena. With three days off, the Islanders faced San Jose Sharks, a team desperate for a win, entering the game with an 0-4 record.
The Islanders played a close game that was competitive throughout. However, a three-goal second period and a strong third period allowed them to pull away with a decisive 5-2 victory. Following a three-goal win, there are a lot of takeaways, but the noticeable thing about this win was particularly the play of one of their best players, who put together a signature performance.
Wahlstrom’s Big Night
Oliver Wahlstrom’s role hasn’t changed significantly from last year. He remains on the Jean-Gabriel Pageau-led line and adds depth to the middle six of the forward unit. However, the style of play that the Islanders are seeing from him and the skills he’s optimizing is special through three games with the recent performance proving that he can be an elite goal scorer for the team.
The Islanders already scored two goals in the second period but Wahlstrom put the dagger into the Sharks with his wrist shot to net his first goal of the night. The team won the faceoff and the 22-year-old forward immediately fired the puck to the glove side of Sharks’ goaltender James Reimer, a difficult shot for any goaltender to stop. The goal gave the Islanders a 3-2 lead and it displayed Wahlstrom’s ability to beat any goaltender with his quick and accurate shot.
The goal was shortly followed by Wahlstrom’s third-period tally and second of the night. Unlike the earlier one, he fired a slap shot from the opposite side of the offensive zone but, once again, the speed of the shot was too much for Reimer. While the wrist shot has often been Wahlstrom’s best attribute, allowing him to accurately pick apart opposing goaltenders, his ability to get the puck on the net was noticeable throughout the game. His second goal proved that if he has an open look on the net this season, he’s going to take advantage.
Wahlstrom has scored three goals in the last two games. He is hoping for a big season and early on, he’s proven capable of being a regular in the forward unit but more importantly, becoming the goal scorer the Islanders’ offense needs. He is starting to take advantage of his shot which should allow him to become a 20-goal scorer for the Islanders this season.
Lee Starts the Scoring
Normally, Anders Lee’s favorite spot to find the back of the net is from the slot whether it’s finishing scoring chances or cleaning up loose pucks. His first goal of the season came near the net but not in the way many anticipated it would. Instead, it came on a redirected shot from the point from defenseman Adam Pelech that ended up in the goal.
The goal itself might be perceived as a lucky deflection, but it showed Lee’s instinct and ability to find the back of the net. Oftentimes, the Islanders captain is in the right position in the offensive zone and waiting for the puck to inevitably find him. His instincts allowed him to score 28 goals last season, second most on the Islanders, and to start the season, they’ve allowed him to already record four points. His goal was the first of the season but looks to only be the start of a big year ahead where Lee continues to place himself in great positions to find the back of the net.
Dobson & Pelech from the Blue Line
The Islanders’ best offense continues to come from the blue line. The defense scored five of the team’s goals in the 7-1 win against the Ducks and while the unit failed to find the back of the net against the Sharks, it continued to make its mark.
Pelech helped score the first goal of the game with his shot from the point that was redirected by Lee. Aside from the big play, he also stepped up in the defensive zone throughout the game for the Islanders, cleaning up pucks near the crease and eliminating scoring chances for the Sharks. It was another unsung performance from the veteran defenseman that helped the team both win the game and put together a strong defensive performance as well.
Pelech has been one of the veterans on the defense but Noah Dobson is emerging as one of the best young defensemen in the league. After scoring two goals in the first two games, he assisted two of the Islanders’ goals against the Sharks, setting up the team’s second goal of the game with a shot through traffic that deflected off of Zach Parise’s skate into the net. The 22-year-old is not only taking shots from the point but also finding shooting lanes and often getting the puck through traffic, a skill that is allowing him to become an elite defenseman in the NHL.
Varlamov’s First Start
It was only a matter of time before head coach Lane Lambert called on his reliable backup goaltender, Semyon Varlamov, to start a game. After Ilya Sorokin started the first two games, the game against the Sharks was a prime opportunity to start Varlamov for the first time in the season. The decision will allow Sorokin to start the next game on five days of rest and keeps both goaltenders sharp for future games as well.
Varlamov’s first start wasn’t great as he allowed two goals in the first two periods of play. However, with 26 saves and a strong third period, he secured the 5-2 victory for the Islanders. He improved as the game progressed and as his team built a comfortable lead, his confidence understandably grew. While Sorokin remains the primary starter, the 34-year-old veteran proved in the win that he can still reliably start for the team and provide stability in the net.
Islanders Avoid Trap Game
The Sharks entered this game without a win and were desperate to avoid the worst start to a season in their franchise history. The Islanders could have played down to a struggling opponent and allowed them to pull off the upset but ultimately, they stepped up and controlled the majority of the game. Like the Ducks, the Sharks were a potential trap opponent but also a team the Islanders could easily defeat. After two games against the two Pacific Division teams, they outscored the opposition 12-3 and proved they weren’t going to take those matchups lightly.
Other Takeaways From Islanders Win
- The fourth line or “Identity Line” put together a strong performance, highlighted by Casey Cizikas and his speed with the puck and capped off by Cal Clutterbuck’s empty net goal. The fourth line has given the team an advantage in recent years and the recent win showed how it can still take over a game, especially with its ability to force turnovers.
- Varlamov was good, but opposing goaltender Reimer was remarkable in the 5-2 losing effort. Reimer saved 40 of the 44 shots he faced and singlehandedly made the game close. The shot total also speaks to the Islanders’ efforts to pressure opposing goaltenders, something that has been emphasized throughout the first three games of the season by Lambert and the coaching staff.
- The penalty kill remains a strength for the Islanders. With three successful penalty kills against the Sharks, they have yet to allow a goal this season while shorthanded, killing all 12 penalties they’ve faced.
What’s Next for the Islanders
To conclude the four-game homestand, the Islanders face the New Jersey Devils. The Devils’ season got off to a rocky start as they lost their first two games but won their recent game in comeback fashion. The Islanders won’t take them lightly and will hope to defeat the Metropolitan Division opponent in a measuring stick game for both teams.
After the Devils, the Islanders start their first road trip of the season with arguably their biggest test of the season so far. They will face the Tampa Bay Lightning on Oct. 22, a team that has given the Islanders problems both in the regular season, defeating them in all three meetings last year, and in the playoffs, eliminating them in the 2020 and 2021 Eastern Conference Final.
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.