If it weren’t for the Buffalo Sabres, the New York Islanders wouldn’t be in first place it seems. Which, sure, technically that’s true. With a 5-2 win today, the Islanders are 6-0-0 against the Sabres this season, take those twelve points off the board the Isles fall to seventh.
But that’s not how this works. For a number of reasons. The main one being is that the Isles still have to beat the team in front of them. Sure, the Sabres are in a free-fall and nothing is going well for them, but playing the Sabres is not a guaranteed two-points.
The Islanders are in first place (now with a four-point cushion) because they’re getting contributions from everywhere in the lineup.
New York Islanders offense on fire against the
The Islanders have been a poor offensive team for a few years now. Going into 2020-21 they were ranked in the bottom half of the league for goals-for. But with three straight 5-2 wins over the Buffalo Sabres, the Isles sit 12th with 73 goals on the year.
Opening the scoring was team captain and goal-scoring leader Anders Lee with his 12th of the season on what is a prototypical Anders Lee goal. Stick on the ice one-foot in front of the goalie with a hapless defender trying to move him.
With 12 goals so far, Lee is on pace for a 27 goal year and is shooting at 15%. That’s not even close to a career-high. There’s still another gear for Anders Lee to hit this season.
Brock Nelson 5on5 Specialist
While putting the puck in the net on the power play hasn’t been a problem for Brock Nelson with five on the year, doing so at even strength has. Leading up to this game Brock had two goals from even-strength situations.
He’d double that today by scoring two goals at even strength*.
(His second came at 6on5 while the Sabres had the net empty.)
Fourth line comes to life
Getting in on the goal-scoring frenzy was the fourth line. In this three-game series against the Sabres, the fourth line score five goals. Twice (Matt Martin) in game one, Cal Clutterbuck scored in game two, and then in game three Cizikas put up the game-winner and Cal added his second in back-to-back games.
During the Islanders struggles last season, the absence of the fourth line was often cited as a reason for their problems. The trio of Casey Cizikas, Matt Martin, and Cal Clutterbuck was together for 19 of the 68 games played in 19-20. The team couldn’t play to their identity without the identity line.
While the fourth line did struggle in the opening portion of the season, they’ve found their stride now. While Matt Martin rightfully received a ton of attention with his two goals in game one, Cal Clutterbuck deserves some attention for this pretty backhand goal the effectively stoped the Isles from bleeding more goals to the Sabres.
We should not marginalize what the Islanders have done against the Sabres. Buffalo might not be any good and might be in some sort of NHL-death spiral, but if the Islanders don’t play to their strength and instead play down to their opponents, who knows what the outcome could have been.
With the win, the Isles sit four points clear at the top of the East and move into a three-way tie for second in the NHL with the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers. Only the Leafs are better with 38 points from 26 games.
Brock Nelson (2G, 4SOG): He was the only Islanders player to put up two points today oddly enough.
Anders Lee (1G, 2SOG): He got the day started with a typical Lee goal.
Cal Clutterbuck: (1G, 3SOG): Back-to-back games with a goal? When’s the last time that’s happened for Cal?
Rasmus Ristolainen (-3): Not a good game for the big blueliner.
Brandon Davidson (-2): The Tank God himself!
Jonas Johansson (25 saves, 0.862SV%): Not a good night from the Sabres goalie.