3. Varlamov’s strong first period
The latter two periods of Monday’s action were almost entirely in the Islanders’ favor, and so Semyon Varlamov was tested sparingly then. But, the first period was not that way at all.
Whether it was Buffalo coming out with a lot of jump, or the Islanders not executing to start the game, the Sabres controlled most of the first period. From about five minutes in, up until the last couple shifts, the Islanders didn’t play great hockey despite having scored twice, first off a forced turnover by Mat Barzal, then off a wide-angle shot on the rush from J.G. Pageau.
The Islanders led, even if they didn’t really deserve to.
Moneypuck’s “Deserve to Win O’Meter” is a fun little tool for showing who should be winning while a game is still happening. How do they do that? Well, by re-enacting the game 1,000 times and regressing each team’s goalie performance towards average.
They have a much better explainer page on their site, go check it out, I’m too tired to explain any further.
Anyway, I usually check the Deserve to Win O’Meter after every period the Islanders play. Tonight, I wasn’t surprised to see the meter read that Buffalo should win the re-enacted game 57.2% of the time after 20 minutes.
But, thankfully, Varlamov was sharp when the Islanders needed him to be. They didn’t need to worry about regressing their goaltending performance to average, because Varlamov was above-average whenever called upon, as he has been for much of this season.
It’ll be easy to revisit this game and say the Islanders played such a strong brand of heavy, defense-first hockey because of the really good final 40 minutes the team played. But, the whole game wasn’t that way. Varlamov was called upon to keep the game in control at times while his team found their legs during the first period, and he did so.