The New York Islanders skated to a dominant 5-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday afternoon, as they debuted their navy Reverse Retro threads at Nassau Coliseum. With the win, the Islanders extended their winning streak to four games and their point streak to seven (6-0-1).
While it was a resilient effort from the Islanders, who faced the Sabres for the second time in as many games and in their first leg of this weekend's back-to-back set, it was a commanding one and another execution of 'Islander' hockey as 13 different players got onto the scoresheet. The Islanders are now 5-0-0 over Buffalo in their season series.
Despite falling behind 1-0 to Buffalo on the first shot of the game, the Islanders reacted with four-straight second-period goals from the up and down the lineup as Mathew Barzal, Brock Nelson, Cal Clutterbuck and Scott Mayfield found the back of the net. Anders Lee scored his team's fifth goal of the night early in the third period to cap the scoring at five goals.
"That's when we're at our best," Barzal said of the team win. "Our line is out there to play a solid, 200-foot game and also score goals and [Nelson's] line as well. When you get [Cizikas and Pageau's lines] who work so hard defensively, when they're scoring and chipping in - we didn't have a power play tonight and we're getting five goals - that's group morale. Everyone is happy. Everyone is scoring. We're in a good mind frame right now, that's why we're having success."
The Islanders defense was dominant with another diligent effort of holding Buffalo to single-digit shots through all three periods and a final total of 29-20. Semyon Varlamov earned his 11th win of the season with 20 saves.
THAT'S A RESPONSE
If there was one word to define the Islanders game on Saturday it was responsive. In both instances after allowing a goal - in the first and third periods - the Islanders responded with authority.
Buffalo took a 1-0 lead just 33 seconds after puck drop on the game's first shot. With Varlamov's vision shielded by Ryan Pulock and Sabres forward Dylan Cozens jostling at the net front, Jacob Bryson netted his first NHL goal at the left faceoff circle. The defenseman sniped his shot towards the far side of Varlamov's glove.
The Sabres nearly doubled their lead in the final minutes of the period on a breakaway chance from Brandon Montour. As Barzal caught an edge on a loose stick at the blueline, Montour took the puck up ice and sent a slap shot Varlamov's way. Fortunately, for the Islanders netminder, the puck rang off the crossbar.
The Islanders ascended out of their one-goal deficit with an assertive four-goal, balanced effort in the second period. Within a five-minute span the Islanders had taken a 3-1 lead, and would enter the second intermission with a 4-1 score.
Barzal ignited the flurry of goals at 3:51 into the period. The 23-year-old made amends for his nearly costly play at the end of the first period, with his highlight-reel goal to put the Islanders on the board.
"That goal that Mat [Barzal] scored gave us a big boost and was well-needed," Trotz said. "That was huge for us. It wasn't just the goal by Mathew, but it was the response by the Nelson line, then the Cizikas line. That momentum sparked us."
Just 1:25 later, Nelson delivered the Islanders' go-ahead goal with a bar-down shot. Nelson and his linemates Anthony Beauvillier and Josh Bailey charged into the Sabres zone and upon the entry, Beauvillier fed Nelson for with a one-timer and his seventh goal of the season.
The trio nearly scored the Islanders third goal of the game on their next shift, with a sharp passing sequence to dissect Buffalo's zone, but Beauvillier's one-timer struck the far-side post.
A strong forechecking effort bookended the Islanders' four-goal second period. Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Michael Dal Colle forced the turnover along the left wall for Casey Cizikas to drive to the net. Cizikas snapped a feed across the slot for a flanking Mayfield to bury his second goal of the season on a wide-open net.
Buffalo started the third period with some momentum as they had just under a minute remaining of carried over time on the power play from Mayfield's interference penalty. Just as the Islanders had killed the power play and Mayfield exited the box, the Sabres scored their second goal of the night.
Sam Reinhart, who was all alone in front of Varlamov, redirected a long-range clapper from Rasmus Dahlin to cut the Sabres lead down 4-2 just 52 seconds into the third period.
Lee restored the Islanders' three-goal lead for his team 1:23 seconds after Reinhart's tally. As Noah Dobson carried the puck down the right and centered a feed to the goal mouth, Lee jammed in his own rebound to score the Islanders' fifth goal of the night and his team-high 11th goal of the season.
Upon outpacing Rasmus Ristolainen to grab the puck, and further strong-arming the last-ditch effort from the Sabres blueliner, Barzal knocked him off his skates, literally. The Islanders' forward's second-period breakaway goal was already primed to be impressive, but the shifty center ensured to add a little No. 13 flair on his jaw-dropping finish in what he called a 'top two, or three goal of his career.'
"It's up there, a highlight forsure," Trotz said when asked where Barzal's goal ranks in what he's seen as a coach. "It's a pretty skillful play. What I liked as much as the end product was the leverage. He was up against a very strong man, 55 for Buffalo. Barzy just used his strength, got underneath and used his leverage and you see how strong he is. He stayed real poised on the puck and that's a wonderful goal. Not many guys in this league can do that."
As Barzal barreled to the net at full speed, he slowed on his edges to draw Buffalo goaltender Carter Hutton to make a cross-crease slide. The 23-year-old swept the puck from his backhand, through his legs and to his forehand for a finish so stunning a pang of astonishment radiated through the Coliseum and to its spectators of media and player personnel who were fortunate enough to witness the goal firsthand.
"It all happened pretty quick," Barzal said when asked to describe his thought process on the goal. "But I know he's coming over to play me there and it's a rolling puck, so I just tried to put it to an area where he can't get a stick on it or something. When I knew I kinda had body position, I felt him a bit off balance. I took it to the net and I knew we were so far ahead of the play that I probably had a bit of time. It felt like Hutton was down and it's kind of a move that you do instinctual and mess around with it in practice and weirdly do it in a game. It's a lot of instincts and being in the moment and reacting."
VARLAMOV STANDS STRONG, DESPITE QUIET NIGHT
Varlamov continued his solid stretch of play as he earned his 11th win of the season and backstopped the Islanders with 20 saves on 22 shots. The Russian netminder improved his record to 11-4-3.
Aside from the Sabres' two goals, where his line of sight to the puck was impaired on the first one, the Islanders netminder put forth another strong effort in the win.
"He didn't have a lot of work, but they were pretty active," Trotz said. "I thought it was a more difficult game, than if you just look back. They didn't have a high number of shots, but they've got some real dangerous forwards."
While the Islanders defense held their opponent to single-digit shots in each period for the second game in a row, the Sabres' offense was much more engaged than in previous meetings. With long possessions and high-to-low puck movement, Varlamov was sharp on what action he did see.
The Islanders broke out their Reverse Retro jerseys for the first time this season on Saturday afternoon. The kit isn't too far off the Islanders usual blue and orange ensemble; but instead the Reverse Retro features navy blue opposed to the usual vibrant shade of Islander blue and black helmets.
The Islanders' Reverse Retro set up is inspired by the ones the team dawned from 1998-2007.
"I thought they were nice. we had a good game in them," Mayfield said. "It's fun switching up the jerseys. We all enjoy it and it's fun trying something new."
ROCKING THE BARN
With Saturday's win, the Islanders continued to preserve their home record (9-0-2) and are still the only team in the NHL to have not lost a game in regulation on home ice.
The win also extended the winning streak to four-straight games and boosted their point streak to seven games (6-0-1).
The Islanders and Sabres close out their stretch of three-straight games with a matinee meeting on Sunday. Puck drop is scheduled for noon.