The headlines coming out of last night's 2-0 shutout victory were Ilya Sorokin's 14th career shutout, Brock Nelson scoring the NY Islanders' first third-period goal in 12 games, and the team breaking a six-game winless streak (0-4-2). But perhaps more importantly, it was a vintage (as in a few years ago) Islanders defensive effort against a Detroit Red Wings team that was playing their last game before an extended break and could have jumped the Islanders in the standings.
As we wrote earlier in the week, Sorokin leads all goaltenders in saves above expected, which is a stat aided by the number of high-danger opportunities the Islanders' defense has allowed in front of him. In his three prior shutouts, Sorokin required 41, 46, and 49 saves. Last night, that number was just 23. "Sorokin played great again and gave us a chance to win," said Kyle Palmieri after the win. "We were able to give him some support and a little cushion."
That's true; Anders Lee's second-period goal from down on his oblique and Brock Nelson's third-period wrister from between the circles did allow the Islanders to play with the lead, but as we saw during the previous homestand, those leads didn't lead to strict defensive efforts.
The actual support came in the form of a well-structured defensive effort. Per Natural Stat Trick, the Islanders limited the Red Wings to 20 scoring chances and 8 high-danger changes throughout the game. Detroit's expected goals were 2.06.
The Red Wings did play the previous night, a 4-3 OT win in Montreal, and were playing their third game in four nights, but with Detroit not scheduled to play against until Feb. 7, there was no reason for them not to give max effort. Playing 5-on-5, the Islanders were especially strong, allowing only 11 shots on goal and 4 high-danger chances.
What was so disappointing during the team's five-game home stand earlier this month was that in two games - against the Minnesota Wild and Washington Capitals, the Islanders were unable to hold onto third-period leads and continually allowed high-quality chances while playing with the lead.
The Islanders absolutely do need more scoring after yet another game where they failed to score three goals, but unless they can play a defensively structured game, it won't matter. It was great to see another Sorokin shutout, but it was better to see it in a game where 40+ saves weren't required.