It was an – interesting – performance the New York Islanders gave on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden. They played well enough to win, at least, and that’s what counts when you have an exhausted, struggling team heading into an extended break.
In the finale of a January New York Islanders-Rangers trilogy that saw the two teams play each other three times in nine days, the Islanders were able to pull out a 4-2 win.
It’s been a long, hard week or so for this team, and by the end of this game, they looked absolutely exhausted. Regardless, they outlasted the Rangers for a kinda gutsy, kinda sloppy 4-2 win in Manhattan.
Here are my three takeaways from Tuesday’s game.
1. The Jekyll and Hyde Islanders
Throughout the course of the game, the Islanders looked at different times both like the team who set a franchise record point streak this season, and the team who has struggled so mightily in the roughly two months since that streak’s demise.
The Islanders’ power play was on point tonight, capitalizing on their only two man-advantage opportunities, in the first period.
But the Islanders’ eerie metamorphosis truly began in the final ten minutes of the second period, after Anders Lee scored to put the good guys up 3-0. The Rangers would control the rest of that period, outshooting the Islanders by a double-digit margin in the final ten minutes of the second frame.
The final 30 minutes of play mostly belonged to the Rangers, though early in the third I thought the Isles managed play quite well. Getting pucks deep, executing clean defensive zone exits, and defending the dangerous areas in their own zone.
Regardless, the Rangers again wrestled away control. With a little help from Scott Mayfield and a bad delay of game bench minor, the Rangers nearly made this a game, scoring two power-play goals on Mayfield’s double-minor.
2. Thomas Greiss Was Stellar
Thomas Greiss’s last three starts have been an exorcism of sorts. Greiss has turned aside 105 of 110 shots against in those three starts.
Back in late December Greiss lost three consecutive starts, two of which saw him pulled (8-3 vs. NSH; 5-2 @ CHI). That ugly stretch led Barry Trotz to start Semyon Varlamov in five consecutive games and only returning to Greiss on the second night of a back-to-back. Greiss won that game in New Jersey, turning aside 32 of 35 Devils shots.
“Greisser” saved 40 Rangers shots on Tuesday, including a number of spectacular ones at key moments both early and late.
3. Mathew Barzal Played 11:51, with Only One Shift in the Third Period
Remember back to mid-December when the Islanders were playing the Buffalo Sabres at Nassau Coliseum?
Late in that game, which was tied 2-2 and eventually destined for overtime, Mathew Barzal and Rasmus Dahlin got a little too friendly behind the Buffalo net. Barzal was issued a two-minute minor, and after the Islander win, Barry Trotz said he would have “a good, long sit” if he did it again.
I think, maybe stupidly, I may have doubted Trotz for a minute when he said that, in spite of the conviction in his voice. But last night Mathew Barzal had his “good, long sit”.
Barzal played 11:41, a season-low by a pretty large margin, (his second-lowest was 15:21 vs. Detroit last week) and saw only one 40 second shift in the third period.
“He’s fine. He knows why. That’s between Mathew Barzal and the coach.” said Trotz to Shannon Hogan during his brief one-on-one post-game presser with the MSG hostess. Yikes.
Maybe it’s recency bias, but Scott Mayfield’s horrendous decision to engage with Brendan Lemieux late in the third period highlights my final thought. Mayfield speared Lemieux and gifted the Rangers with a four-minute power play in the final minutes. The Rangers scored on both Mayfield minors.
It could’ve been worse, of course. The Islanders did manage to stave off a final Rangers power play later and held on for a 4-2 win.
Want your voice heard? Join the Eyes On Isles team!
Whether you think Lemieux embellished the spear or not (I think he did) really isn’t important. The bottom line is the Islanders need their cornerstone penalty-killing defenseman to be smarter than that late in games. Something he has had trouble doing at times this season.