The New York Islanders survived a scary first period, but steadily improved on Monday night, beating the Buffalo Sabres 3-2 at Nassau Coliseum.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau broke a 2-2 tie with 4:52 to play, while Anders Lee and Matt Martin found the back of the net for the Islanders. Curtis Lazar and Sam Reinhart scored for Buffalo. The win was the Islanders third against the Sabres this season and snapped a two-game losing streak, after a pair of regulation defeats to Pittsburgh.
"It probably wasn't our best game," Head Coach Barry Trotz said. "Tonight the Hockey Gods were in our favor with a couple of posts they hit… The other night I thought we should have had some points and we got nothing and today probably could have been beat and got points because of some timely goals and timely saves."
Here are five takeaways from a winning return to Long Island.
The Islanders night ended with two points, but it started off with three shots on goal.
That was the Islanders total through 20 minutes, as they were outshot by the Sabres 12-3 in the opening frame, 36-23 overall, not exactly the immediate jolt they were anticipating from returning home from a four-game road trip.
The Sabres eventually took a 1-0 lead on a Lazar tip late in the period, Buffalo's first five-on-five goal in three games vs the Islanders this season. Lazar's goal capped off a lopsided first period where the Islanders didn't record a shot in the final 15:48 of the period.
Despite the total on the board, the Islanders weren't fazed by their start, opting to stick with their process and not get discouraged.
"It was deceptive because we were putting pucks to the net, we were missing the net and they were getting blocked," Trotz said. "After the second period I think it was 33-33 in attempted shots during the game. It didn't feel that way ,but when you look up at the board and you got five shots [through halfway] it doesn't look great. We have to hit the net a little bit."
ISLANDERS FIND GROOVE IN SECOND AND THIRD:
The Islanders got back into their groove in the second period, as Lee tied the score 1-1 at 3:56. Lee had all sorts of time and space in front of the net to open up Ullmark before sliding the tying goal five-hole, but the preceding sequence was the highlight, with Mathew Barzal working to keep the puck in the Sabres zone.
Barzal had taken an offensive-zone penalty on his previous shift and was determined to redeem himself after exiting the box. After racing in and putting a chance off Ullmark's helmet, Barzal chased down and stripped Lazar at the Sabres' blueline to keep the play alive. A toss into the corner was shot back to the point by Ullmark, where Ryan Pulock dished to Jordan Eberle, who tipped a touch-pass to Lee for his eighth of the season.
Tied 1-1 entering the third, the Islanders got a spark from the fourth line, as Martin scored his second goal of the season at 3:01.
After being denied on a quality look in the second period, Martin got on the board with a seeing-eye shot through traffic. Martin finished the game with three shots, one shy of Lee for most on the Islanders on Monday night. Martin also chipped in two hits and a block.
"That definitely got us going," Lee said of Martin's goal.
The Sabres' lethal power play tied the score quickly, as Reinhart batted a rebound out of the air and past Varlamov at 5:48. Buffalo's power play finished the game one-for-three and generated seven shots. It also set up a tight game down the stretch, teeing up Pageau's winner.
Pageau had been sniffing around the Sabres net in the latter half of Monday's game and was eventually rewarded, backhanding in the game-winning goal at 15:08 of the third period.
The winner came on a power play late in the third period, with Oliver Wahlstrom putting a low one-timer on Ullmark, who kicked the rebound into the slot, where Pageau swatted it in. It was Pageau's seventh goal of the season - his sixth in his last seven games - and also his team-leading third game-winning goal this year.
It felt just for the French-Canadian center, who turned in another well-rounded game for the Islanders. Pageau had a breakaway chance roll off his stick in the second period and had another quality look in tight to start the third. Pageau also won nine of his 12 faceoffs on Monday.
"My confidence is good," Pageau said. "I'm just trying to do the right things and come to the rink and bring some energy, bring a smile, make the boys laugh, make Marty laugh. I'm just trying to do my best, things are bouncing my way right now so I just have to keep going in the same direction."
Pageau's goal wouldn't have been possible without Wahlstrom, who did not start the game on the power play, but was rewarded for another strong effort with power-play time in the third. Wahlstrom certainly wasn't afraid to shoot, with five shot attempts - including two on net - in the game.
The Islanders held the fort from there, with Varlamov (34 saves) coming up big in the final minute.
After a 2-2-0 road trip, including two regulation losses in Pittsburgh, the Islanders were excited to return home, where'd they'd yet to lose in regulation.
They kept that streak alive on Monday, improving to 5-0-1 on home ice. After starting with 12-of-17 on the road to start the season, the Islanders will play nine-of-10 at home, including Monday.
"We have to find ways to win like we did tonight," Martin said. "You're not going to have your best every single night, but you find ways to pull through and we have to take advantage of our time at home most importantly."
CZARNIK IN, KOMAROV OUT:
Austin Czarnik drew back into the lineup on Monday, replacing Leo Komarov alongside JG Pageau and Oliver Wahlstrom.
Czarnik was playing his second game as an Islander and first since Jan. 31, recording two shot attempts in 9:11 TOI. Trotz said he liked Czarnik's game, praising his intelligence and his flexibility to play on the left and right side.
The Islanders four-game homestand continues on Thursday when they host the Boston Bruins for the third time this season. Puck drop is at 7 p.m.