The NY Islanders (20-17-11, 51 points) finish off their first half at UBS Arena tonight against the defending Eastern Conference Champion Florida Panthers (30-14-4, 64 points).
The Islanders traveled north of the New York State border to play the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre. Semyon Varlamov returned to the net on Thursday and quickly made 5 tremendous saves to start. However, the penalty-kill continued to struggle after Hudson Fasching’s delay of game. Nick Suzuki quickly scored on an assist from Juraj Slafkovsky to make the game 1-0. The Islanders went on the powerplay 9:52 in on a hooking penalty from Rafael Harvey-Pinard. For the 12th time this season, a powerplay ended early as Kyle Palmieri took a slashing penalty in preventing Joel Armia from scoring on a breakaway opportunity. Cole Caufield then scored seconds later during 4-on-4 play on a turnover from Sebastian Aho, followed by Sean Monahan’s goal less than a minute after Harvey-Pinard’s penalty expired.
The game remained 3-0 Canadiens into the 2nd-period. Jayden Struble and Jake Evans each took penalties 2 minutes into the frame that led to Bo Horvat’s 20th goal on a tip-in from Mathew Barzal. The Isles gained momentum by outshooting their opponent 18-7 including a Barzal goal that was whistled down.
The third period started slow for both teams until midway through when Brendan Gallagher took a 5-minute major penalty for an up-high hit on Adam Pelech. The Islanders took advantage with Barzal and Palmieri scoring within 1:30 of each other to tie the game 3-3. Right as Gallagher left the penalty box, Monahan would score his second goal of the night on a turnover from Pierre Engvall. Despite great opportunities in the final 2 minutes with shots from Barzal and Palmieri, the Canadiens held on to win 4-3. Sam Montembeault was outstanding, saving 43 of 46 shots on goal.
The Panthers are playing the second game of a back-to-back that started against the Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG Paints Arena. As per the Islanders’ last game, the first 3 goals were scored on the powerplay. Jake Guentzel and Evan Rodrigues scored in the first period, following Sam Reinhart in the second. After successfully killing 5 more penalties, the Panthers were unable to close out the game with Evgeni Malkinscoring with 42 seconds left. The game remained tied through overtime when Aleksander Barkov and Reinhart scored to win the game 3-2. Sergei Bobrovsky dominated the Penguins offense, saving 35 of 37 shots on goal.
The Islanders played the Panthers 3 times in 2022-23. On opening night at UBS Arena, the Panthers won 3-1 on goals from Eetu Luostarinen, Patric Hornqvist, and Matthew Tkachuk. Noah Dobson recorded the only Islanders goal. The second matchup came just 10 days later at FLA Live Arena where the Panthers would win 3-2 on goals from Anton Lundell, Luostarinen, and Ryan Lomberg. Anders Lee recorded both powerplay goals with Barzal having both assists. The final matchup came on December 23rd at UBS Arena where the Isles won 5-1 with Anthony Beauvillier scoring twice and Aatu Raty recording his first career goal. There were 15 penalties taken between the two teams in this game.
The latest matchup came on December 2nd at FLA Live Arena. After a back-and-forth start to the first period, Carter Verhaeghe took a hooking penalty. Lee took advantage of the powerplay to give the Isles a 1-0 lead. Reinhart responded just 1:06 later to tie the game 1-1. Engvall broke the tie in the 2nd-period with a goal assisted by Alexander Romanov. With Barzal missing this game due to illness, Julien Gauthier and Simon Holmstrom found themselves on the top line and each scored goals. Despite a strong Panthers following a 3rd-period goal from Verhaeghe, Ilya Sorokin saved 42 of 45 shots on goal to win the game 4-3.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Fasching left the game early Thursday night after sliding into the glass on his breakaway shot. Pelech also did not return to action after taking a high hit from Gallagher. Matt Martin missed the matchup in Montreal due to illness, but figures to return against Florida. Patrick Roy will have his first disciplinary decision to make with Engvall following his turnover that led to Monahan’s game-winning goal. Given these circumstances, expect Gauthier, Mike Reilly, and Oliver Wahlstrom to be in the lineup. On the positive end, Horvat’s powerplay goal marked the 7th time in his career he has scored 20 or more goals in a season. The Isles offense also produced a season-high 46 shots on goal, with 11 coming from Palmieri and 9 from Barzal.
The Panthers’ top line led by Reinhart, Verhaeghe, and Tkachuk have been elite this season. Reinhart is a favorite to win the Hart Trophy having 35 goals and 25 assists. Barkov and Kevin Stenlund have been outstanding in the faceoff circle, each winning 55 percent of contests. Forsling and Niko Mikkola lead the defense with 63 and 79 blocked shots, making the pairing among the best in hockey. The goaltending tandem of Bobrovsky and Anthony Stolarz has allowed the 4th fewest goals in the NHL and hold a .911 save percentage.
Anders Lee - Bo Horvat – Mathew Barzal
Pierre Engvall - Brock Nelson – Kyle Palmieri
Simon Holmstrom – J.G. Pageau – Oliver Wahlstrom
Matt Martin – Kyle MacLean - Cal Clutterbuck
Alexander Romanov - Noah Dobson
Mike Reilly – Sebastian Aho
Samuel Bolduc – Scott Mayfield
Evan Rodrigues – Aleksander Barkov – Mackie Samoskevich
Carter Verhaeghe – Sam Bennett – Matthew Tkachuk
Eetu Luostarinen – Anton Lundell – Sam Reinhart
Jonah Gadjovich – Kevin Stenlund – Ryan Lomberg
Gustav Forsling – Aaron Ekblad
Niko Mikkola – Brandon Montour
Oliver Ekman-Larsson – Dmitry Kulikov