Ten days ago, the New York Islanders took a gut punch from a hungry New Jersey Devils team after winning two games easily against the Anaheim Ducks and the San Jose Sharks. They were embarrassed on home ice, as it appeared that they had taken their foot off the gas and ultimately paid the price.
Despite playing with more intensity over the next two games, a back-to-back in Florida against the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers, the Islanders were swept and had dropped three straight.
With still three games against talented hockey teams, in the New York Rangers, the Carolina Hurricanes, and the Colorado Avalanche, to close out the month of October, there was a real strong possibility that the Islanders could find themselves in a 2-7-0 hole by the end of the week.
But the opposite occurred as the New York Islanders went 3-0-0 over that span, shutting out the Rangers 3-0, rocking the Carolina Hurricanes by a score of 6-2, and then coming back from down 3-0 to beat the 2022 Stanley Cup Champion Colorado Avalanche 5-4.
They have outscored the elite teams 14-4 and, more importantly, have dominated the third period, outscoring them 9-1 in the final twenty minutes.
What’s led to the New York Islanders’ success?
Consistent Forward Lines Clicking
First-year head coach Lane Lambert spent the first handful of games switching up his lines as he tried to find which pieces fit together. We saw veteran Josh Bailey serve as a healthy scratch against the Tampa Bay Lightning last Saturday, followed by Anthony Beauvillier taking a seat against the Florida Panthers the next day.
Lambert was grasping at straws as the Islanders’ losing streak reached three games.
In the practice before the New York Islanders’ contest against the New York Rangers, Lambert showcased these lines:
Josh Bailey — Mathew Barzal — Oliver Wahlstrom
Anders Lee — Brock Nelson — Anthony Beauvillier
Zach Parise — Jean-Gabriel Pageau — Kyle Palmieri
Matt Martin — Casey Cizikas — Cal Clutterbuck
He stuck with those lines for the game against the rival Rangers and has stayed with them as the wins have continued to come. And over the last three games, Lane Lambert has been able to run all four lines.
Over the three-game winning streak, the New York Islanders have seen Brock Nelson find the back of the net with three goals over his last two games. Nelson led the Islanders with 37 goals a season ago and is starting to look more like himself. Anthony Beauvillier has points in three straight games since being a healthy scratch. He scored the go-ahead goal against the Avalanche on the rush, moving his feet, and showcasing a heck of a shot to beat Colorado Avalanche netminder Alexandar Georgiev short side.
BEAUVILLIER GIVES US THE 4-3 LEAD.
4 UNANSWERED GOALS FOR THE ISLES. pic.twitter.com/I9knRxTXWG
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) October 30, 2022
Mathew Barzal and Oliver Wahlstrom seem to be building chemistry and learning one another’s tendencies. Josh Bailey has elevated his game alongside those two, as he has found the net twice over the last three games. More on Mat Barzal later.
Kyle Palmieri notched a pair of goals against the New York Rangers, and Zach Parise has two goals over his last two games. Saturday night, he scored a critical goal to cut the Islanders’ deficit to one. Jean-Gabriel Pageau has done the little things for his line, earning three assists on this winning streak.
The fourth line has been rejuvenated and exceptional. They have been forechecking hard each shift and have played an integral role in getting the ball rolling over this stretch and look like the best fourth line in hockey again.
The Clutchness of the Netminders
Over this three-game winning streak, Ilya Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov have combined to stop 107 of 113 shots, which is good for a .947 SV%. Their combined goals-against-average is 2.00, and with the offense averaging 4.66 goals per game, winning has resulted.
What’s more important than the number of saves is the timely saves.
The New York Islanders have not been perfect on defense, as Sorokin and Varlamov have faced 33 high-danger shots over the last three games, an average of 11 per game. They have combined to stop 29 of the 33, an .879 high-danger SV%.
Ilya Sorokin put on a clinic against the New York Rangers for his first shutout of the season, a 41-save performance. He followed that up by stopping 33 of 35 against the Carolina Hurricanes.
“WHAT A SAVE.” pic.twitter.com/ujTcOaBuwG
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) October 29, 2022
Despite Semyon Varlamov allowing four goals to the Avalanche, they were four goals he had no real chance on.
As the Islanders mounted the comeback, Varlamov was instrumental. He made critical saves in crucial moments, one right after Parise’s goal after Scott Mayfield fell down and then another one later in the period to rob Andrew Cogliano toward the back-post.
Barzal Being Barzal
When the season began, the New York Islanders were not getting enough from their $9.15 million man, Mathew Barzal. Despite racking up assists, there were too many games where he was invisible, not using his skating and edge work to make a difference. But over the last three games, Mathew Barzal has elevated his game, and it’s benefitted the Islanders immensely.
Barzal’s playmaking and vision over the last three games have been impressive. He has four assists over his previous three games. He notched the secondary assist on Josh Bailey’s first goal of the season, which came against the New York Rangers as the Islanders took a critical two-goal lead in that one. He found Adam Pelech at the point with a high IQ pass.
Against the Carolina Hurricanes, his nifty pass to Oliver Wahlstrom on a 2-on-1 got the Islanders on the board late in the first period. Later in the contest, it was Barzal who pulled up inside the Hurricanes zone before feeding Josh Bailey, who made some filthy moves to score the eventual game-winning goal in career game 1,000.
Against the Colorado Avalanche, he found Scott Mayfield at the back-post for the goal that tied the contest at three to erase a three-goal deficit.
WHAT A COMEBACK. pic.twitter.com/eZ7npZAazf
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) October 30, 2022
That pass came after Barzal did his thing in the offensive zone, spinning around and drawing all the attention.
Mathew Barzal needs to be the engine driving this offense, and he’s certainly done so on this three-game winning streak.