The New York Islanders would not surrender a third period lead on this night. In front of an announced crowd of 14,388, the young stars of the future came ready to play and defeated the Buffalo Sabres 4-1.
A day after fighting and losing to the San Jose Sharks, New York held an optional skate in the morning with most of the team taking the morning to rest up. It paid dividends in the first period as Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo continued their outstanding offensive campaigns by notching their 22nd and 27th goals of the season, respectively, to give the Islanders the early lead heading into intermission.
Anders Nilsson was solid, as was the much maligned (and rightfully so) penalty kill, which thwarted Buffalo on three first period attempts.
The game would settle into a malaise in the middle stanza that was reminiscent of contests we have seen involving the Islanders and Devils, with neither team generating any offense and many stoppages. With the crowd lulled into a deep state of sleep, many were awoken by the fact that when the horn sounded and the teams began heading off to their respective locker rooms, the home team held a precarious two goal third period lead.
At the beginning of the third, those fears were starting to become reality as Tyler Ennis found the back of the net on the power play just 56 seconds in. A collective groan went up from the near capacity crowd and everyone wondered aloud ‘Here we go again’. But not on this night. Ryan Strome collected a beautiful pass from Matt Martin just inside the Buffalo blueline and skated in all alone on goaltender Jonas Enroth, before collecting his own rebound just 39 seconds later and the two goal lead was restored.
Keeping the persistence they showed all night long, they would hold onto this lead and even add a fourth into an empty net as Cal Clutterbuck closed out the scoring at the 17:47 mark, after Sabres coach Ted Nolan pulled his goalie with perhaps just too much time left on the clock.
Holding the lead, especially in the third period, has been a huge part of the Islanders lack of success this season, something Travis Hamonic spoke to in the locker room post-game. “I thought the effort was good. We got up and stayed up, we did not give up the lead. What more can you ask for?”
With injuries and lack of depth combined with under-achieving offensive performances dooming the Islanders after such an uplifting playoff season last year, Hamonic went on to stress that he is not ready to just play out the string. “Has it been tough? Sure, definitely. Are we the only team that has had to go through it? No. We are not ready and I am not ready to start slicing up excuses on why everything has happened”
Ryan Strome had an excellent night (1 goal, 9 shot attempts, 9-5 on faceoffs in 12:13) as he continues to grow and mature into the National Hockey League. The Islanders seem to be exercising caution with the next superstar, sheltering him on a checking line and limiting big minutes for now. Strome spoke on how fun it is to play with such a youthful group.
“It’s fun. We played one of the best teams in the league last night and we had a couple of breakdowns and lost by one goal. It’s an exciting time and we got some players out and coming along. Hopefully, I can establish myself and continue to grow with this team.
The skill level is so apparent in his game, however the need to get bigger and stronger will be a main focus point in off-season training. “You want to create as much as you can, I’m an offensive guy but you can’t ignore the defensive side of your game. Calculated risks are key in this league and I want to work even harder this off-season to get stronger and improve on the mental side of the game”.
With the development of the young kids over the next month the main focus of the 2013-14 season, many of them are already proving that the future could be exciting times for the Islanders. Anders Lee has exceeded many expectations in his short time back with the big club, Strome continues to develop and Calvin de Haan and Matt Donovan are getting plenty of experience and seasoning on the blue line. Even if half the prospects, especially on defense, pan out over the next two years this season could be a distant memory in Islander fans minds.
The summer will prove critical to securing a future in the crease, but that is best left for an entirely different discussion.
View From Above
- Travis Hamonic spoke of his relationship with Andrew MacDonald and how he misses his old partner on a personal level. Audio here :
- Matt Carkner did exactly what he was inserted into the lineup to do, taking on behemoth John Scott in a first period tussle that actually went in favor of Matt in the decision.
- Kyle Okposo was 7-2 on faceoffs, as he continued to show the marked improvement we saw last year as the main man in the middle of the circle.
- Josh Bailey still looks to be suffering from a lack of confidence, missing an open net in the first period, instead sliding the puck back into Enroth’s pads. Remember however, the conversations being had around Josh’s struggles this season were being had about Okposo just a year or two ago.