The Upshot: The NY Islanders strike the Lightning in a dominant 6-2 win over Tampa

Feb 8, 2024; Elmont, New York, USA; New York Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock (6) and New York
Feb 8, 2024; Elmont, New York, USA; New York Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock (6) and New York / Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports
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HOW IT HAPPENED

Tonight's victory is proof that coaching makes a huge impact on a team. The Islanders went from play sluggish hockey with absolutely no defense to a physically and defensively minded team that is not only scoring but seems excited to play. Noah Dobson opened the scoring early with his first goal in 15 games. After a great defensive zone breakout, JG Pageau sends a drop pass to Dobson at the blue line, who sniped it from the right circle. Nikita Kucherov, unarguably the Lighting's best player tonight, tied the game at one just a few minutes later. The Isles didn't let the Lighting gain momentum from the Kucherov goal, after a strong faceoff win by Bo Horvat, like clockwork got the puck to Mat Barzal who held, waiting and then roofed a beautiful backhander to give the Isles a 2-1 lead.

The Isles went into the first intermission with a 3-1 courtesy of a goal by Kyle Palmieri, another goal in the toy department from in deep. The one slip up the Islanders had all night came on the penalty kill, after a Scott Mayfield high-sticking penalty as the first came to a close the Islanders started the second period on a strong PK. The defense allowed Anthony Cirelli to get in deep, who got a strong shot off on Ilya Sorokin, leaving Brandon Hagel to bank one in off the rebound.

The Islanders scored three more times to close out the second period, courtesy of a Ryan Pulock rocket in just his second game since returning from injury, Bo Horvat and Casey Cizikas in his first game back since sustaining an injury on January 9th. The team went nuts when Cizikas scored at morning skate, and the joy on everyone's faces after his goal tonight shows just how much this team is a family. Horvat, with the Islander's 5th goal of the night, comes off of a pass from who else but Barzal, snipes one from the circle and through a few screens.

Despite not scoring in the last 25 minutes of play, the Islanders played hard and never let the Lightning gain momentum or much puck possession. The Islanders played smart, drawing penalties off of scoring chances. Their shots have been hitting the net, even Pulock's, and despite playing well defensively, Patrick Roy doesn't have them playing just defense, they're dominating play offensively and getting scoring from all ends of the lineup. Tonight was a breakdown of Tampa's usually very strong defense.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

When coming into a sad, struggling Long Island team, Roy made a promise that the Islanders would start playing hockey that fans are proud of. I think it's safe to say that fans are once again proud to be fans of the New York Islanders again. In a tight Eastern Conference and Metropolitan Division race, the Islanders needed to play a dominant game over the Lightning. The biggest improvement between tonight and the Islanders of the past is that they never took their foot off the gas. Even after the Kucherov goal, the Islanders came back to score all of five minutes later and took off from there. They threw smart, well timed hits and played great on the power play and on the penalty kill. The Islanders were also great with their defensive zone breakouts, something they struggled with during the first half of the season. They were playing with their heads up, and smart and controlled breakouts.

Head coach Roy noted the team's need to to win, the tenacity and the grit that they showed tonight. "The commitment that the guys made back-checking, coming back, tracking, blocking shots...things that don't require talent, but just will, and that's what we had tonight. The will was phenomenal."

WHAT WENT WRONG

While this was a great game both offensively and defensively by the Islanders, there's always room for improvement. When it comes to scoring, this team knows how to do it, but the old regime engraded this idea of getting the extra pass so deep in their minds that they can't seem to break the habit. The Islanders could have scored another 4-5 goals had they just shot the puck and not gone for the extra pass. The Islanders also need to work on cleaning up their passing, often sending pucks towards each others feet, not sticks. Its especially problematic when the passes are going towards Alexander Romanov, who is in a bubble and can't see his feet. The team needs to continue to communicate with each other and clean up their passing and they will go far if they keep playing like they played tonight.

STATS OF THE GAME

Per Eric Hornick in The Skinny, The Isles scored at least three goals in each of the first two periods for the first time since an 8-1 win over Edmonton on Super Bowl Sunday 2016 (Feb 7, 2016, at Barclays Center). It was the ffifth time they’ve done so in 20 years. The other dates were. Dec. 29, 2015, Feb. 11, 2011 and March 7, 2009.

Barzal has 6 points (3G, 3A) in his last 4 games, with a goal and an assist tonight. Per NHL PR, with a goal and an assists, Mathew Barzal (1-1—2) became the 16th player in Islanders history with 100 career multi-point games.

SOCIAL MEDIA MOMENT OF THE GAME

Toss the paper bags... the Islanders are once again a team everyone is proud to root for.

WHATS NEXT?

The Islanders will host on the Calgary Flames at UBS arena for a Staurday matinee. Puck drop is at 1pm and will be back to their regularly scheduled MSGSN programing, which im sure fans can't wait for.