Islanders: Three takeaways from 3-0 win over Buffalo

Jan 31, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; New York Islanders goaltender Ilya Sorokin (30) against the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 31, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; New York Islanders goaltender Ilya Sorokin (30) against the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
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Ilya Sorokin #30 of the New York Islanders. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
Ilya Sorokin #30 of the New York Islanders. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images) /

The New York Islanders point-streak is at eight games thanks to a bunch of big saves by Ilya Sorokin, and some timely scoring by Anders Lee and J.G. Pageau.

The New York Islanders point-streak is at eight games thanks to a bunch of big saves by Ilya Sorokin, and some timely scoring by Anders Lee and J.G. Pageau. The final in Buffalo on Tuesday night was 3-0 Isles, but it could’ve easily been a different story with some of the chances Buffalo got.

Here are three takeaways from the Islanders’ fourth shutout of the season.

1. Sorokin was the best New York Islanders player

Ilya Sorokin came to North America this past summer as one of the top-two goalie prospects in the world. The hype that followed behind him was seismic in scale, and Islanders fans the world over rejoiced in the knowledge he’d signed to play here with the team who drafted him way back in 2014. The Islanders had gotten their white whale.

But, as hype trains go, Sorokin’s ride has been unpredictable. There was always bound to be the moment in which fans who had deified the Russian netminder would feel shortchanged due to the near-mythic levels of hype built up around Sorokin.

That moment has played out over the last few weeks following a poor start (@NYR), a mediocre start (@NJD), and a decent start (@PHI) by Sorokin. A small yet vocal minority of the most-cynical (or fickle, you decide which) Islanders fans have already begun shouting about Sorokin being an overrated, overhyped bust of a goalie.

I don’t want to say that one start erases all the problems we saw from Sorokin in his previous starts, because that’s simply not true. But, if there was ever a performance to shut that naysaying crowd down for a little while, this was the one.

Sorokin, as stated in the header before I began waxing lyrical, was the Islanders best player tonight. Simply put, I find it hard to believe the Islanders win this game tonight with anything short of a stellar goaltending performance, which Sorokin turned in.

The Buffalo Sabres only registered 20 SOG tonight, that is true. But don’t be fooled, that was no routine 20-save shutout. Sorokin made a number of highlight-reel saves to keep that zero on the board, and even those saves of a less spectacular, more ordinary variety were executed pretty flawlessly.

Sorokin wasn’t deep in his crease, he was challenging shooters at the top of it. His rebounds weren’t being kicked into dangerous areas where Buffalo shooters could easily get ahold of them and put them back. His glove hand, which flubbed a couple of pretty routine NHL saves earlier this season, was an absolute thing of beauty on Tuesday.

The athleticism I, and others, have been raving about was still on full display. But the fundamentals appeared to have taken a big step forward in Sorokin’s two-plus-week absence from the crease.

I was very impressed with Sorokin in net tonight. He didn’t look nervous. There was no apparent rust, despite a long lay-off that was exacerbated by postponed games at Buffalo during the first week of February. His first pushes to get across his crease were short and powerful, yet controlled enough not to slide out of position. His glove – man, his glove.

Ilya, bravo, sir. We’ll take more of those.

Anthony Beauvillier #18 of the New York Islanders (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Anthony Beauvillier #18 of the New York Islanders (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

2. Beau Knows – Beauvillier’s return, and the thoughts on the lineup

Tuesday also saw the return of Anthony Beauvillier to the Islanders lineup. Beau, who was suffering from a lower-body injury, had been out since the Islanders’ January 24 defeat at the hands of the New Jersey Devils.

With some changes having been made to the Islanders forward lines since his injury, the question entering Tuesday’s action was “where will Beau play?” Barry Trotz slid him right into Leo Komarov’s regular spot, the left side of the third line, which featured J.G. Pageau at center, and Oliver Wahlstrom opposite the returning Beau.

How were the results? Meh. Not good, certainly not good. But, not as poor as some other lines performed for the Islanders either. I’d like to see this one run out there a few more times before any conclusions are made, because this trio had some moments by my eye test, but the advanced metrics weren’t high on them at all.

Unsurprisingly, those same metrics weren’t very kind to any of the Islanders forward lines, and for good reason. I thought the Isles played pretty poorly in front of their goalie for most of Tuesday night. They didn’t generate much in the way of sustained offensive pressure, and when they were the ones dictating play, there weren’t many dangerous opportunities created.

Just a very hum-drum performance from this Islanders forward corps. Even worse, I thought the defense wasn’t particularly good either.

This has been a persistent problem over the past couple weeks. While Barry Trotz appears to have loosened some of the rigidness of the Islanders structured, defense-first approach to games in the interest of creating scoring, it has also perhaps made his team too lax in their own end.

The Islanders allowed a lot of chances in the high-danger areas on Tuesday. The Sabres may have only put 20 pucks on net, but Natural Stat Trick and Moneypuck’s expected goals models loved the locations of their shots, and for good reason. Buffalo got a lot of open looks from expensive real estate on Tuesday, and that isn’t very Trotz-esque.

I don’t expect the Islanders lineup to change too much between now and Thursday’s matchup in Pittsburgh. Maybe a change here, a change there. Nothing crazy. But, it’s clear they have to fix some of those troubles they faced Tuesday in Buffalo.

Jean-Gabriel Pageau #44 and Anthony Beauvillier #18 of the New York Islanders (Photo by Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images)
Jean-Gabriel Pageau #44 and Anthony Beauvillier #18 of the New York Islanders (Photo by Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images) /

3. Pageau stays hot, buries goal in fourth-straight

There were a lot of doubts at the 2019-20 NHL trade deadline when the New York Islanders announced they had traded for then-Ottawa Senators center J.G. Pageau. People called GM Lou Lamoriello’s trade package an overpayment for Pageau, a then-27-year-old forward who had only that season broken the 20-goal mark for the first time in his career.

A month ago, J.G. Pageau was struggling to find chemistry with linemates like Ross Johnston and Leo Komarov. That isn’t calling Johnston and Komarov bad necessarily, it’s just to say that they definitely didn’t fit playing with Pageau.

Pageau scored his fifth goal of the season on Tuesday night, extending his goal-streak to four games by beating Sabres goalie Carter Hutton high over the glove side. The perfectly placed tally made it 2-0 Islanders less than 12 minutes into the first period.

Here we are, nearly one year since the trade that brought Pageau to the Island, and with context, I still can’t find justification for the claims of overpayment.

Pageau has been everything the Islanders bargained for and more since his arrival. The organization knew they’d get one of the best face-off-taking centers in the NHL. They knew they’d get a player who lived for playoff hockey. They knew they’d get the perfect 3C for their team, filling their forward corps out down the middle for a potential run at the Stanley Cup.

I don’t think they knew what a perfect fit they’d really gone in for at the time, though. Pageau’s play on the ice literally embodies the pesky Isles mentality. “[I’m] trying to be a pain-in-the-ass to play against.” Pageau told the media following Tuesday’s shutout victory in which he scored that goal and assisted on Anders Lee’s empty-netter late in regulation.

Pageau has checked all the boxes we’ve come to expect from him in 2020-21. He’s winning nearly 58% of his face-offs, about 60% of which he’s taking in the defensive zone. The Islanders’ 5v5 team save percentage with him on the ice is .967, or 96.7%.

Now, the oiSV% (on-ice save percentage) is a mix of some luck and some skill. Pageau also has a 20% shooting percentage. That oiSV% and S% results in a 102.4 PDO, which is a stat that is always likely to regress towards 100. In other words, Pageau is playing out of his mind well right now.

But, he also has the fourth-lowest xGA of Islanders skaters who have played in all 15 of the team’s games in 2020-21, meaning he has done well to keep opponents shooting from the less-dangerous parts of the ice.

If anything, the goal-scoring, offensive side of Pageau’s game is likely to regress. Both of his goals against Buffalo the last couple nights, while well-placed shots, have been from pretty low-percentage areas. But, playing alongside better wingers in Beauvillier and Oliver Wahlstrom will more than likely stop it from regressing to the levels we saw with wingers like Johnston and Komarov.

What seems clear is that Pageau is going very well right now. He’s riding a hot shooting streak, and that’s awesome because it’s resulting in some timely goals. But, when he cools down Pageau’s still everything the Islanders expected of him, and more.

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