In the second meeting of the season, the NY Islanders play host to the St. Louis Blues before playing six of their next seven away from UBS Arena. The Isles look to add two more points before playing one of the most challenging stretches of the season.
Coming off a two-game skid just before an extended road trip, Sunday night's matchup was a must-win without really being a must-win against a team who could be a frontrunner in the Conor Bedard sweepstakes. The Chicago Blackhawks, in their second of a back-to-back, have been struggling to tread water all season. The Isles were set to take advantage of a team with some weary legs as Chicago just captured its first win in nine games. Semyon Varlamov made multiple high-danger saves in the first period to keep the Isles even at zero. Less than three minutes into the game, Casey Cizikas answered the challenge from Reese Johnson in response to Cizikas' collision with Blackhawks goaltender Alex Stalock in the two teams' previous matchup. It was only the seventh fight of Cizikas's' career. The Islanders got on the board just past the midway mark of the second period as Matt Martin shuffled a rebound past Arvid Soderblom. Martin seemed to be the only person in the building who knew the puck went in, as the play had to be reviewed before the goal was given. Zach Parise added a goal on a deflected shot from Adam Pelech, and Brock Nelson extended the lead to three on a one-timer coming off an odd-man rush. Varlamov was named the first star of the game, making 21 saves for his first shutout of the season and 37th of his career. The 3-0 victory gives the Isles 32 points (16-10) on the season, good enough for second in the Metropolitan division.
Last night, the Blues fell to the NY Rangers, 6-4, in a defense-optional game. The Blues held a 4-3 lead heading into the third period before allowing three goals in the final frame. Jordan Binnington only managed to turn aside 18 of the 24 shots put on target by the Rangers. The Blues are currently sitting five points out of the second Wild Card spot with 22 points (11-14).
In the first matchup of the season, the Isles got the best of the Blues at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis. As the Isles lead in the shot department in the first period, they still went into the break trailing by a goal. As the horn sounded for the start of the second period, it did not take much time for the Isles to even the score up, as Kyle Palmieri tipped in a shot from Noah Dobson to tie the game at one. The one goal seemed to open the floodgates for the Isles as they added three more goals just barely past the halfway mark of the second period from Nelson, Bailey, and Anders Lee, respectively. After being peppered with goals, Binnington attempted to muck the game up, giving Ilya Sorokin a shoulder bump at the end of the second period. Following the game, Sorokin said of the incident, "oh yeah, it's funny. I was relaxed." Binnington's antics were to no avail as the Isles came out of top, 5-2.
Players to Watch
Though we may have been looking forward to Sorokin and Binnington facing off in opposite creases, it seems as if Binnington will find himself sitting this one out after being shell-shocked last night at Madison Square Garden. Instead, we will likely see beloved former Islander Thomas Greiss. Since leaving Long Island, Greiss has struggled to find success similar to what he had in blue and orange. His 20-33-9 record through three seasons is far below his win percentage in his time on the island. Though he has been stellar in the losses to the Philadelphia Flyers and Nashville Predators, allowing only two goals in each, Sorokin has not lost back-to-back games often this season. Still one of the top netminders in the league, Sorokin remains a candidate to contend for the Vezina Trophy with a 2.17 GAA and .932 SV%.