“We could be a little bit better” is what New York Islanders head coach said of his team before they hit the ice against the New York Rangers. The Islanders came into the game with their first win in six after slowly building on small successes since they faced Philly on November 30.
Another win would give them back-to-back wins and push them up to fourth in the Eastern Division. To do so, they have to be a “little better”.
Specifically, that means cutting down on mistakes in the D-zone. Against the Penguins the Isles were guilty of costly turnovers at least twice. Both immediately resulted in goals for the Penguins. Less of that would be beneficial against a Rangers side with back-to-back wins on the board.
New York Islanders fourth line powers them to victory, again
This one was boring for a loooong time. Truly. It really was. If a casual fan tuned into this one they likely turned it off before anything happened. It was low-event hockey in its purest form. Through 40 minutes, both teams managest 37 shots combined and eleven high danger chances.
Just the way Barry Trotz likes it.
Through two periods, the Islanders had 54% of the high-danger chances and held a 54.1% xGF. They weren’t dominant but they were in control and that’s all that Barry Trotz and his coaching staff would have wanted.
(Stats from NaturalStatTrick.)
And then the third period happened.
The fourth line has been MIA for most of the season. There aren’t many teams who rely so heavily on their fourth line quite as much as the Isles do. It’s why Lou Lamoriello had no issue giving Matt Martin $6 million over four years this offseason.
Without the fourth line of Martin-Cizikas-Clutterbuck, Barry Trotz’s men are rudderless. On Saturday, they finally started to click. They were getting up on the forecheck and just generally causing havoc in the Penguin’s end. Eventually, their hard work was rewarded with a game-tieing goal that swung the momentum in the Islanders favor.
It happened again against the Rangers today. The fourth line was up in the Ranger’s end harassing the puck carrier and just generally causing havoc. And again, they found their way onto the scoresheet. Casey Cizikas broke the scoreless affair at 11:15 of the third and then Matt Martin secured the win 2:05 later with a goal of his own.
For as good as the fourth line was, Semyon Varlamov stole the show with a 30 save shutout. Varly was tested frequently and constantly stood tall to keep the Rangers off the scoresheet. Like stopping Artemi Panarin going in alone when the game was still 0-0.
It was boring at times. Very boring even. But the Islanders don’t care, they have the second ‘W’ in a row. The win pushes them into a playoff position with 12 points in eleven games.
Semyon Varlamov (1.00SV%, 0GA): This was a perfect game from Varalmov who now how three shutouts on the season.
Matt Martin (1G, 1A, 2 Hits): It’s not often that Matt Martin puts up a multipoint game, but with a goal and a helper Matty now has three points on the year. He had eight in 55 games in 19-20.
Casey Cizikas (1G, 4SOG, 4 Hits): It was a textbook game from the Isles fourth line who’s beating heart is Casey Cizikas.
Anthony Bitetto (-2, 2SOG): Not a good night from the Long Island native who finished -2.
Alexis Lafreniere (-1, 5 Hits): He was a non-factor yet again for the Rangers.
Adam Fox (-1, 2 Blocks): Yet another big name non-factor.