The Upshot: NY Islanders move into second in the Metro with 5-4 win over Carolina

The Islanders hung on to the lead to claim sole possession for second in the Metro division despite the Canes fighting till the buzzer.

Dec 23, 2023; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; New York Islanders center Bo Horvat (14) and New York
Dec 23, 2023; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; New York Islanders center Bo Horvat (14) and New York / James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
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HOW IT HAPPENED

The Islanders and Hurricanes opened the game with each team taking a penalty within the first ten minutes of play, but the Isles struck first with a goal by the most important Sebastian Aho. Teuvo Teravinen responded just a minute later to tie the game at one. The Islanders scored three first-period goals for the first time in 125 games and the first time in the Lane Lambert era. Brock Nelson scored his 16th of the season after being kicked out of the faceoff, and Bo Horvat scored his champagne goal thanks to another great pass by Mat Barzal. The Canes fought hard to stay in the game, and the other Sebastian Aho scored on the power play to make it 3-2 Isles. Mike Riley, who has proved himself vital to the Islanders' lineup, ripped one from the blue line to give the Isles a two-goal lead heading into the third. Just a minute into the third period, Jacob Slavin's goal brought the Canes within one, but Anders Lee responded with his own goal. The Islanders' penalty kill continues to struggle as Stefan Noesen scored on the power play to bring the Canes within striking distance. The Islanders were able to hold on and weather the storm to beat the Hurricanes.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

The Isles have continued to fight through their struggles with the third period throughout the first 30 games of the season. Heading into tonight's game, they had given up just one third-period goal in the last three games, and tonight, they gave up just two. Most importantly, they didn't allow Caroline to score a game-tying goal they had been giving up with seconds left. For the first time in a long time, the Islanders are controlling their destiny. They're getting leads early in the game and can control play and sustain solid pressure to maintain that lead. They aren't panicking in the defensive zone as much, and as painful as the dump-and-chase play is to watch for the third period, it's actually creating sustained offensive zone time for the Islanders and allowing them to play their own game. They know they play well along the boards and get chances off of puck battles, so they are dictating that kind of play.

The Islanders' defensive game has tightened up a lot in the past few games. There was a scare in the first period after Alexander Romanov took a puck to the chest and was checked out by training staff on the bench. But even then, Romanov took that shot, defending the net and making sure Ilya Sorokin didn't have to bail them out again. While there were a few defensive mistakes, and there is still much room for improvement, by playing a stronger and tighter defensive game, the Islanders have allowed their goaltenders to relax and play to their maximum potential without needing to make crazy saves to bail the team out.

WHAT WENT WRONG

The Islanders continue to look like they're scrambling on the penalty kill. They currently stand at 31st in the league with 71.9%. While it's great having short-handed king Simon Holmstrom on the team, the Islanders need to do better at killing penalties. Most of these overtime losses and games going into overtime in the first place are because the team is letting in far too many power-play goals. For a team that used to have a shutdown penalty kill and finally has a power play worth watching, having such a bad penalty kill is embarrassing. And while it is important to note that we are currently missing three of our top four penalty-killing defensemen in Mayfield, Pelech, and Pulock, the latter of the two have no timetable for their return, and the team needs to figure out how to kill a penalty without them.

STATS OF THE GAME

Per Eric Hornick, this was the first time in the Lane Lambert era and the first time in 125 games that the Isles scored three goals in the first period. The last time was against Pittsburgh with Barry Trotz behind the bench.

Per Stephen Rosner, Anders Lee's goal tonight was his 250th NHL goal.

SOCIAL MEDIA MOMENT OF THE GAME

Canes fans seemed very unhappy with the miscall against Riley as he took down Andrei Svechnikov in the Islander's zone, which caused a turnover that led to Aho's opening goal.

Isles fans took it upon themselves to remind themselves of the help they got from the refs during the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season.

WHATS NEXT

The Islanders head home for Christmas and a three-day break before taking on the Pittsburgh Penguins on December 27th. Puck drop at UBS Arena is set for 7:30 and can be streamed on MSGSN and SN-PIT.