In Robin Lehner’s return to Buffalo, the Islanders pick up their 21st win of the season, earning a 21-13-4 record heading into 2019. Nick Leddy opened the scoring for the Islanders, Brock Nelson doubled the lead, and Lehner made 39 saves to ensure the Isles would return home with the win.
The New York Islanders end 2018 in a playoff spot on the back of a four-game winning streak where they picked up seven wins in their last eight games, and have allowed the least goals in the league at this point. Let that sink in, given where everyone predicted this team would be, including myself and many of our other writers here at LHH. There’s been an injection of youth into the team and those players have earned their playing time and Trotz’s trust, and it’s made the Islanders really fun to watch. It’s ok to be excited about this team, no matter what any writer up in Toronto or wherever who never watches the Islanders says. Happy New Year, Isles fans!
The first frame was a goalie showcase, fitting given the game marked Robin Lehner’s return to Buffalo. The Isles put 15 shots on goal in the first, notably a Josh Bailey shot toward an empty net that was impressively saved by Carter Hutton. Lehner had to make 12 saves of his own, and was up to the task.
Most notably in this period, Sabres captain Jack Eichel, who was a game-day decision, did suit up for Buffalo, but left the game and ultimately did not return. Valtteri Filppula faced the same fate, leaving the game in the first and officially ruled out at the beginning of the third. That led to a fun mix of lines for the Islanders, including Dal Colle getting time with Barzal, as well as a Beauvillier-Barzal-Ho-Sang line.
Just a few minutes into the second period, a Nick Leddy shot from the point made it past Carter Hutton. Leddy’s shot bounced off a Sabres player’s stick to change direction, and Michael Dal Colle’s screen made it difficult for Hutton to track the puck. Leo Komarov won the faceoff in the Sabres zone and got the puck to Mathew Barzal, who dished it off to Leddy. It was Leddy’s second goal of the season, and one he seemed happy to score.
But the one goal lead wouldn’t last for long, as a shot from Brock Nelson took a weird bounce off Hutton’s glove, going over it and into the net, doubling the Islanders’ lead. Ho-Sang gave the puck to Nelson in the neutral zone, and Nelson skated up ice and got the shot off.
After the second goal, the Islanders went into a defensive shell, where they faced a ton of shots from the Sabres’ late rally. Buffalo was helped by two penalties, a retaliatory slashing call on Barzal for hitting Casey Mittelstadt with his stick, and a tripping call on Scott Mayfield.
On the Barzal penalty, the Sabres converted, with Kyle Okposo scoring his first goal in 21 games on the power play. If anyone was going to score, Okposo is probably the guy you mind the least. All told, the Sabres took 13 shots to the Islanders’ 3 in the third period, but Robin Lehner stood tall, and ended up getting an assist on Ryan Pulock’s strange empty net goal. Pulock was clearly trying to just clear the puck out, but it took a weird bounce off the glass, into the middle of the ice where it never lost any steam as it headed right into the Sabres’ empty net, giving the Islanders a 3-1 win.
- Devon Toews and Scott Mayfield have been an extremely solid pair, and they’ve both been important defensemen for the Islanders so far, even in Toews’ short stint. They should be kept together even when Thomas Hickey comes back, and Adam Pelech should probably sit, given how bad the Pelech-Pulock pairing has been in comparison.
- Mat Barzal picked up a primary assist tonight, extending his point streak to 9 points in 5 games (6 goals, 3 assists). He now has 36 points in 38 games.
- Ho-Sang picked up his first assist of the season and Dal Colle had another solid game. I would love to see these two stick around.
Next, the New York Islanders return to the Nassau Coliseum on Thursday, January 3rd to take on the Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks, who are in tomorrow’s Winter Classic for the 450th time in the event’s 11 year history, have struggled this season, and fired Joel Quenneville, the same coach that led them to three Stanley Cup wins. They’ve replaced him with former Islander Jeremy Colliton, who played 57 games with the Isles from 2005-2011.