The New York Islanders closed out their western road trip on a high note. After a 5-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on March 14 and a 6-3 win over the Anaheim Ducks the following night, they overwhelmed the San Jose Sharks 4-1 in a dominant victory.
Related: 4 Takeaways From Islanders’ 6-3 Win vs Ducks
The Islanders winning two of their three games on the road trip not only allowed them to maintain their playoff spot but also leap into the top wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. The recent win was a reminder of why the Islanders are a playoff team and more importantly how they can finish the season as one of the best teams in the league. They stepped up in every facet of the game and for the second game in a row, proved they can win both with great defense and a strong offense.
Islanders Defense Helps Create Offense
Three of the Islanders’ four goals were created with shots from the blue line. Scott Mayfield’s shot was deflected by Kyle Palmieri, while Alexander Romanov had his shot redirected into the back of the net by Zach Parise. The only goal from the defensive unit was scored on a Ryan Pulock slap shot from the point, which was also the only power-play goal in the game.
The Islanders’ defense has cooled down from the point, especially since the start of the season when the defense was playing a pivotal role in the offensive zone. However, if the unit starts to step up from the point and add a spark from the point, the offense will drastically improve. The recent game was a reminder of what Pulock, Romanov, and Mayfield can bring to the offense, especially if they are willing to generate shots on the net.
Sorokin’s Strong Performance
After he allowed the first goal in the game, Ilya Sorokin was lights out. He made 29 saves on 30 shots and eliminated the Sharks’ offense in the second and third periods. The Sharks tried to make the game close and come back, but Sorokin closed out the game and secured the Islanders’ victory.
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Sorokin started all three games on the road trip and the message from head coach Lane Lambert was clear. All three games were must-win games and required elite goaltending. While Sorokin struggled in the loss to the Kings, he was remarkable otherwise. With the Islanders in a fight for a wild card spot, he may start the rest of the regular season games.
Pageau’s Big Night
Jean-Gabriel Pageau had the game-changing goal that flipped the momentum into the Islanders’ favor. With the team trailing and on the penalty kill, he stole the puck and started the rush the other way. Pageau took a sharp angle to the net and slipped the puck past Sharks goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen to tie the game as the first period came to a close.
Along with the big goal, Pageau added an assist in the third period to the offense. After missing multiple weeks with an injury, he has become one of the best skaters on the team. In three games, Pageau has scored two goals and two assists and more importantly, has played a significant role in all three zones.
Islanders’ Power Play Struggles
The one red flag in the 4-1 decisive victory over the Sharks was the hapless power play. The Islanders had five power-play opportunities but only scored one goal. It’s a glaring weakness that can cost the Islanders a playoff spot as it continues to let them down. Recently, the team has lacked a reliable puck handler on the man advantage, something Mathew Barzal would be, but unfortunately, he is out of the lineup with an injury. The hope is that they can find a reliable form of offense on the power play in the upcoming games as they will need one for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Other Takeaways from the Islanders’ Win
- Parise scored his 18th goal of the season with his third-period deflection. At 38 years old, he is the oldest player on the team but has shown no signs of slowing down and on the contrary, is one of the best forwards on the Islanders.
- Palmieri scored his second goal in as many games, building off a four-point game against the Ducks. He’s starting to heat up and become a reliable goal scorer on the team and is specifically forming a strong chemistry with trade deadline acquisition Pierre Engvall.
- Defenseman Sebastian Aho left the game after taking a hit in the first period. He’s emerged as one of the best puck-handling defensemen on the Islanders and would create a void in the unit if he misses time.
What’s Next for the Islanders
The Islanders return home to face the Toronto Maple Leafs for the fourth and final time this season on March 21. The Maple Leafs have had their number this season, winning two of the three games, but the Islanders winning the upcoming game can go a long way in the playoff picture.
The Islanders don’t have an overwhelming schedule to close out the season, with only 11 games remaining. However, with a lighter schedule compared to the other teams in the Eastern Conference, each game becomes more important. So far, the Islanders have stepped up to maintain their playoff position but will need to continue to play at a high level and close out the season strong.