Islanders: Three Takeaways from 4-2 Win over Bruins

Jan 18, 2021; Uniondale, New York, USA; New York Islanders center Jean-Gabriel Pageau (44) shoots wide against Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask (40) during the second period at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 18, 2021; Uniondale, New York, USA; New York Islanders center Jean-Gabriel Pageau (44) shoots wide against Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask (40) during the second period at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports
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Michael Dal Colle #28 of the New York Islanders. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Michael Dal Colle #28 of the New York Islanders. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

The New York Islanders turned in probably their best effort of the 2020-21 season in Saturday’s 4-2 win over the Boston Bruins.

The New York Islanders extended their point streak to six games Saturday night with a 4-2 win over the Boston Bruins. The win was probably the most complete of the Islanders season to this point, and they performed very well against a Bruins team on a 10-game point streak.

Here are three takeaways from a strong performance at the Coliseum.

1. The New York Islanders second line was their best

The New York Islanders established second-line featuring Anthony Beauvillier, Brock Nelson, and Josh Bailey entered the 2020-21 season floundering.

Nelson and Bailey have yet to reach their peak form, and Beau has been injured. But Barry Trotz has shuffled his forward groups, and it appears he’s found a gem in the line of Michael Dal Colle, Brock Nelson, and Jordan Eberle.

This new-look second line had played well coming into Saturday’s action, but their performance against the Bruins is probably the best they’ve had to this point.

Michael Dal Colle, who has been a late bloomer as a prospect, has played the best hockey of his NHL career in this recent stretch, and he was a force again on the forecheck and backcheck Saturday night.

Brock Nelson has struggled, and there is reason to be annoyed by that, but the Islanders long-established 2C looked to be starting to find his footing. According to Moneypuck, he recorded the Islanders second-best individual expected goals mark, at .58 ixG, and .44 ixG according to Natural Stat Trick. He is a talented player, in spite of the poor recent performances, and there should be little reason to believe he won’t find another gear yet going forward.

Jordan Eberle has found a way to get out of the gates quickly in 2020-21, and he again stood out amongst a group of very strong forward performances from the Islanders.

Perhaps the most impressive part of this unit’s night was the quality of their competition. They lined up most-often against the Bruins top forward line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak, and outside of a few slip-ups, they held that line in check when head-to-head.

Despite two actual goals for on the night, the Bergeron line held only 26.86% of the expected goals share in their 11:25 of 5v5 ice time, an indication that they were often kept out of the dangerous parts of the Islanders zone.

With the notable exceptions of their two EV goals, one of which came against a mish-moshed and tired Matt Martin – Mat Barzal – Cal Clutterbuck line, the Bergeron group did not threaten often.

This is a huge find for Barry Trotz if this Islanders trio can continue on the trajectory it’s currently on. The Islanders can always use more depth scoring to complement their first line, and this second line could do that going forward.

Jean-Gabriel Pageau (44) of the New York Islanders. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Jean-Gabriel Pageau (44) of the New York Islanders. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports /

2. Special teams made the difference tonight

The New York Islanders power-play has not been good since 2017-18. It started this season looking similarly anemic, which to a team that is no offensive juggernaut at 5v5, is a real problem.

The Edmonton Oilers have not been good at 5v5 in 2020-21, even with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on the ice. But, their power-play is lights out good, which often makes the difference for them in their wins.

For the Islanders, a good power-play could be the difference between being a middling or below-average offensive team, and one that can hold their own against the league’s best. That’s what they got from their special teams on Saturday. Both the power-play and the penalty kill performed exquisitely well and were ultimately the difference in a 4-2 win.

Mat Barzal’s game-winning power-play marker early in the third period lifted the Islanders man-advantage unit to three-for-four since we turned the calendar to February. The goal may have come on a bit of a broken play, but sometimes teams need those breaks.

Later, Leo Komarov fed a perfect pass to a streaking J.G. Pageau, who finished off the Islanders first shorthanded goal of the season. The Isles penalty kill was effective throughout the night, killing off both 4v5’s.

It was a refreshing performance for Komarov, whose inclusion in the Islanders lineup has earned Barry Trotz regular criticism. Tonight, Komarov was effective in the role we so often hear that he excels at, which is penalty killing. That’s always a welcome change, especially when that strong performance extends outside of just the penalty kill, which it did.

The Islanders power-play is now tied for the eleventh-best man-advantage unit in the NHL with the Arizona Coyotes at a 25% success rate. The penalty kill is 20th-ranked, at 75%.

Mathew Barzal #13 of the New York Islanders. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Mathew Barzal #13 of the New York Islanders. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

3. The Islanders won in spite of a sub-par Barzal line performance

Mathew Barzal’s game-winning goal came on the power-play, and it was obviously crucial for the Islanders win on Saturday. But his 5v5 line didn’t carry the Islanders offensive production tonight, and that’s not a bad thing.

Barzal still potted a goal on Saturday, extending his point streak to a career-high eight games. But the Barzal, Lee, Bailey first line did not have the same sort of impact for the majority of the night.

The Islanders top line posted the third-worst xGF of the night at .23, and the fourth-worst FF% at 26.67% according to Natural Stat Trick. They didn’t get many unblocked shots off, and when they did they weren’t from very dangerous areas in the Bruins zone.

Again though, that is okay. The Islanders top line has carried the 5v5 workload for the majority of games this season, and an off-night, especially against an elite Bruins team is not the worst thing in the world. In fact, it could be flipped to a positive so long as it stays an anomaly because it means the Islanders don’t need them to be at peak form every night to win hockey games, even against good teams like Boston.

How replicable is that? Probably not very on a consistent basis. Most NHL teams are not going to win if their top line is posting numbers like that regularly. But this performance was the exception, not the norm for the first line’s 5v5 performances this season.

Barzal is at a point-per-game pace and leads the Islanders in goals, assists, and points through 13 games in 2020-21.

Anders Lee has already posted more power-play goals this season than he did all of last.

The first line, generally speaking, is going well on most nights. That’s with either Josh Bailey or Jordan Eberle on the right-wing.

Bailey’s performances still need to reach the next level that we know they can, but on most nights that hasn’t handicapped the Barzal line. Bailey is a streaky player, and it’s likely that he’ll eventually pop off for a bunch of assists in a short span at some point.

The only glaring negative I see here is that the Islanders top line didn’t face the best competition Boston had to offer on Saturday. Barry Trotz started them off against the Bergeron line, but pretty quickly switched matchups, favoring to ice the Nelson line against the Bruins top unit, rather than his own first line.

That’s a problem because you would hope Barzal’s group could do more against not the best the Bruins had to offer.

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