The New York Islanders picked up right where they left off as they returned to action from the holiday break. After defeating the Florida Panthers 5-1 on Dec. 23, they easily defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-1 last night. Moreover, the win also mirrored the one against the Panthers as they took over the game in the second period and closed it out with a dominant performance.
With the win, the Islanders improve their record to 20-14-2 and are only one point behind the Penguins and the New York Rangers in the Metropolitan Division. The recent game specifically was a reminder of what the Islanders can look like when everything goes right and the team plays well across the board. They looked dominant against a Penguins team that looked like one of the best in the Eastern Conference and proved why they can compete with any team in the NHL.
Barzal’s Big Night
Mathew Barzal is having a great season but has struggled to find the back of the net. Against the Penguins, he stepped up and took over the game in the second period and proved that he can be an elite goal scorer for the Islanders’ offense.
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The first goal came on a redirected puck as Hudson Fasching sent the puck to the goal. However, Barzal skated to the slot to allow himself to deflect the shot and give the Islanders a 2-1 lead, which they wouldn’t give up for the rest of the game. To cap off the second period, where the Islanders scored three goals to put the game away, he collected a loose puck in the offensive zone and quickly shot it to the top shelf.
The two-goal performance gave Barzal his seventh goal of the season. After failing to score in the first 18 games, he has picked up the pace and started to become a goal-scoring threat for the Islanders. Moreover, with the two goals against the Penguins, he has 35 points in 36 games played. The Islanders’ success goes hand in hand with their best player stepping up and contributing to the offense and against the Penguins, they saw firsthand how he can be a difference-maker.
Lee’s Scoring Instincts
Brock Nelson is the leading goal scorer for the Islanders but Anders Lee is the best instinctive goal scorer on the team. Whether it’s finding the right spot in the offensive zone or collecting a rebound near the crease, Lee knows where the puck is going to end up and knows how to find the back of the net. Against the Penguins, he scored the Islanders’ first and last goal of the game with two big plays near the net.
The first goal was created from a turnover in the offensive zone which allowed Nelson to find Lee on a cross-ice pass where he elevated the puck past Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry. To start the third period, the Islanders once again pressured Jarry and with multiple shots on the net, Lee scored on a rebound to seal the 5-1 victory. With the two-goal performance, he now has 13 goals on the season, second-most on the team behind Nelson, who has 15.
Islanders’ Defense Steps Up
The Penguins entered this game with one of the best offenses in the NHL, averaging 3.42 goals per game. The Islanders made them look hapless, allowing only one goal in the first period and only 21 shots on goal in the game. Scott Mayfield and Alexander Romanov blocked three shots each while Parker Wotherspoon, who was playing in his second game of the season, helped keep the Penguins from finding open shots.
The defensive unit closed out this game and gave goaltender Ilya Sorokin an easy night in the net. In addition, the Islanders’ forecheck and offensive zone pressure helped them maintain possession throughout the game as the Penguins struggled to exit the puck out of their zone. Overall, the game was a masterpiece for the defense as they eliminated a potent offense in the dominant victory.
Dobson’s Playmaking From the Point
Noah Dobson is having a big year and the recent game was another great performance from the young defenseman. He led the team with 21:49 ice time and turned defense into instant offense with multiple takeaways but was most impactful at the point. In the second period, he controlled the puck at the blue line and looked like he was going to shoot it on goal. Instead, he found a wide-open Josh Bailey near the net and zipped a pass to the forward for a goal to give the Islanders a 3-1 lead. With 10 goals and 14 assists, he leads the defensive unit in both categories and continues to be the team’s most reliable playmaker from the point.
Other Takeaways from the Islanders’ Win
- Oliver Wahlstrom left in the first period and didn’t return for the rest of the game. The Islanders are already dealing with a surplus of injuries with Cal Clutterbuck, Kyle Palmieri, and Simon Holmstrom out of the lineup, and Wahlstrom’s absence can become another tough blow for the team.
- Nelson had two assists on the night to bring his total on the season to 21. With 15 goals and 21 assists, he is a point-per-game player with 36 points in as many games played.
- Casey Cizikas and Jean-Gabriel Pageau played on the same line and both skaters played a big role in the strong defensive performance, creating turnovers throughout the game. Both Cizikas and Pageau are centers but with both of them on the same line, the Islanders have one of the best defensive trios in the league.
What’s Next for the Islanders
The Islanders host the Columbus Blue Jackets in their final home game of the year before they head west to start a four-game road trip. The Islanders have already defeated them twice this season with a 4-3 overtime win on Nov. 12 and a 3-2 win on Nov. 25 but the Blue Jackets will be playing with an extra day of rest as their recent game against the Buffalo Sabres was postponed.
The Islanders have started to turn their season around but they need to keep playing well to improve in the Metropolitan Division. The back-to-back wins allowed them to gain ground but they still remain in sixth place in the division and out of the playoffs as a result.