Things have not been coming easy at all for the NY Islanders recently, and that was no different last night against the NHL's best team in the Boston Bruins. For the entire stretch of the latest five-game homestand, the Islanders only come out strong in the first period but don't have much of any urgency for the rest of the contests. The Bruins game continued that trend, with the Isles going up 1-0 after the first period off of the 13th goal of the season from Zach Parise. Boston then scored four unanswered goals, the first of which came from Long Island native Charlie McAvoy, who also assisted on Brad Marchand's goal to make it 3-1 and put a dagger into New York. Linus Ullmark, who is the rightful favorite to win the Vezina trophy this season, made 25 saves on 26 shots and was the Bruins' best player all night, while Semyon Varlamov only made 20 saves on the 24 he faced.
The Buffalo Sabres come into this game in a very similar situation compared to the Isles, having lost five of their last six games, with their most recent game ending in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. The Sabres got scoring from stars Victor Olofsson and Tage Thompson, along with a shorthanded tally from Peyton Krebs to lead the Hawks 3-1 going into the third period. Chicago went on to score three unanswered goals, and Seth Jones provided the tying goal with the extra attacker on in the final minute along with the overtime winner, singlehandedly limiting Buffalo to only earning one point.
Last season the Islanders went 1-2 against the Sabres with the home team winning each matchup. In their first meeting at UBS Arena, Mat Barzal led the way with one goal and two assists along with both Noah Dobson and Josh Bailey registering two points in a 4-1 victory. Former Islander and current Sabres' captain Kyle Okposo scored Buffalo's only goal of the contest. The next two matchups came at KeyBank Center where the Isles lost by scores of 6-3 and 5-3 respectively. in the latter contest, Dobson once again had a multi-point outing for the Islanders, but Buffalo had three players accomplish the feat while securing two points near the end of the season.
Players to Watch
It's difficult at this point to pinpoint a player to watch for the Isles, as most of the team is ice-cold right now, but someone who has looked solid and should get used more often is Ryan Pulock. In last night's broadcast of the Islanders game on TNT, analyst Eddie Olczyk suggested that the Isles put Pulock at the top of the blue line on the power play and just let it rip to open more passing lanes to improve the power play. Pulock is certainly the best candidate for that, owning by far the hardest slapshot on the team which we could see more of. Offensively he has two goals and 13 assists for 15 points on the season but defensively is where his game truly shines, even without his regular partner Adam Pelech in the lineup.
The player everyone will be keeping their eye on today should be Tage Thompson on Buffalo. He has suddenly developed into a premier player in the NHL and has filled the void of Jack Eichel maybe even better than Eichel could have. He is a unique blend of size coming in at 6'8, combined with great acceleration, a wicked shot and crafty hands. In 43 games this season, Thompson has 32 goals and 27 assists for 59 points. To put his dominance into even greater perspective, he has 24 points on the power play this season, while the Islanders as a team have only registered 23 power-play goals in total. Thompson did go on a little five-game cold streak of his own without a goal, but he scored last night against Chicago so he is certainly back in the swing of things and the Islanders will need to try their best to stop the scoring machine that is Thompson.
Josh Bailey-Mathew Barzal-William Dufour
Anders Lee-Brock Nelson-Anthony Beauvillier
Zach Parise-JG Pageau-Hudson Fasching
Matt Martin- Casey Cizikas-Cal Clutterbuck
Alexander Romanov-Scott Mayfield
Sebastian Aho-Noah Dobson
Dennis Cholowski- Ryan Pulock
Injured: Oliver Wahlstrom, Adam Pelech, Kyle Palmieri
Jeff Skinner- Tage Thompson- Alex Tuch
J.J. Peterka- Dylan Cozens- Jack Quinn
Casey Mittlestadt- Tyson Jost- Victor Olofsson
Zemgus Girsensons- Peyton Krebs- Kyle Okposo
Mattias Samuelsson- Rasmus Dahlin
Owen Power- Henri Jokiharju
Jacob Bryson- Ilya Lyubushkin
Lines via Daily Faceoff