Superb individual performances are not enough for the Islanders, who have struggled in their team game of late.
So as good as Mathew Barzal was on Thursday night, the Islanders nearly cost themselves with a sleepy third period against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. But Josh Bailey — on the Islanders’ only shot of the period to the Rangers’ 17 — scored at 18:34 to give the Isles a 4-3 victory.
Barzal had a goal and two assists, Robin Lehner made 27 saves and the Islanders (24-14-4) went 2-for-3 on the power play. Barzal has four goals and 10 assists in seven career games against the Rangers (17-19-7), who have lost five straight.
The Islanders are 13-2-0 against the Rangers since Dec. 2, 2015.
Barzal seemed keenly focused on delivering an electric yet responsible performance after his bad turnover led to a goal by the Hurricanes late in the first period of the Islanders’ 4-3 loss on Tuesday night.
“The first thing that sticks out with Mathew is the skating,” coach Barry Trotz said. “His quickness and his skill set are off the charts. I keep saying to him, ‘Don’t mistake activity for achievement.’ I think he’s become a lot more efficient because he’s positionally not roaming as much as he was early. He’s not trying to do everything all by himself all the time. He’s just becoming a better, more rounded pro.”
Barzal, controlling the puck movement on an efficient power play from the left half-boards after drawing a holding call on Marc Staal at 1:38 of the second period, found Nick Leddy high between the circles and his shot was deflected by captain Anders Lee for a 3-2 lead at 3:08. Kevin Shattenkirk’s shot through traffic had tied the score at 2 at 1:11 of the second period.
The power play, with its first goals in three games, was a difference-maker. So was the Islanders’ penalty kill as the Rangers could not generate a shot in 55 seconds of five-on-three play after Leo Komarov deliberately knocked the net off its moorings at 4:13 of the third period with defenseman Adam Pelech already in the box for hooking.
The Rangers’ Jesper Fast, swatting at a floating puck, tied the score at 3 at 8:40.
Trotz opted to insert burly left wing Ross Johnston onto Valtteri Filppula’s third line with Komarov for rookie Michael Dal Calle, and Johnston immediately went after Cody McLeod, who missed three weeks after breaking his hand in a fight with Johnston in the second period of the Islanders’ 5-0 loss at the Garden on Nov. 21. McLeod did not accept the invitation and Johnston wound up being called for unsportsmanlike conduct 17 seconds in when he flung off a glove.
Former Islander Ryan Strome’s power-play goal at 1:38 marked the third straight start in which Lehner has given up an early first-period goal.
But Barzal, skating past Brett Howden on the right wing, got to the crease for a backhander past Henrik Lundqvist (16 saves) to tie it at 1 at 2:31.
Jordan Eberle’s power-play goal from the left circle, with Barzal getting the secondary assist, made it 2-1 at 8:51 of the first period.
Notes & quotes: Lehner is 3-2-2 against Lundqvist, a fellow Swede. The two first crossed paths in Gothenburg when Lundqvist, then 19, visited Lehner’s father, Michael, a goaltending coach . . . Johnston returned to the lineup after being a healthy scratch the previous five games. Dal Colle was out of the lineup for the first time in six games since being recalled from Bridgeport.