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New York Islanders

Islanders Bounce Back And Now Need To Build



AP Photo/Gene Puskar

Throughout the grind of the NHL season, some games simply fade to memory as various plays, dates and arenas all get blurred together. 

For the New York Islanders, though, their game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday night will not be one of those. Instead, their 5-4 overtime win at PPG Paints Arena will stand out as a pivotal moment when their season is all said and done. However, what they do with it will determine whether it’s for good or bad. 

In the short term, it mitigated the pain of their devastating loss to the New York Rangers at MetLife Stadium and, more importantly, earned them two points. Those points were ones the Islanders desperately needed, but are only a small drop in the bucket and will dry up fast if they fail to build upon them.

“We really have no time to sit around and have a bad game,” Mathew Barzal told reporters in Pittsburgh. “Every game is important. Getting tonight was huge.”

It helped that the New Jersey Devils, one of the many teams jockeying for position in the Eastern Conference, failed to pick up points as they lost to the Washington Capitals in regulation. But relying on other teams to falter is not a viable strategy for the Islanders, especially if they plan on continuing to hand points to their competition such as they did last night. 

After holding a 4-2 advantage midway through the third, the Islanders once again choked away a multi-goal lead late in the game as Pittsburgh tied the score to force overtime and collect a much-needed point of their own. 

Nevertheless, the Islanders held on and narrowly avoided a third straight loss. 

“Winning is going to bring some confidence to our guys,” head coach Patrick Roy said. “Overall, I was pleased with the compete level. Could we have been better in some situations defensively? Yes. But it’s a big win for our team, period.”

The Islanders were lifted to victory as areas in their game that have been anchors all year turned into life preservers against the Penguins.

Their league-worst and historically bad shorthanded unit had a perfect night. Even though it came against an equally poor Pittsburgh power play, the Islanders killed off all three penalties they took. It was just the second time in their last nine games the Islanders didn’t surrender a power play goal.

“I think it’s just commitment,” Adam Pelech said. “Our penalty kill has been a weakness of ours this year. I think that we have the group and the goaltending to have a great penalty kill. That’s going to be super important for us going forward, and it just takes commitment, dedication and sacrifice.”

Pelech’s first goal of the season 57 seconds into overtime decided the game and was the third the Islanders had from depth scoring against the Penguins. 

Barzal and Brock Nelson have been reliable scorers for the Islanders all year and were once again as they scored the team’s first two goals on Tuesday, but they still needed contributions from Pelech, Simon Holmstrom and Mike Reilly to walk away with the win.

“I was very happy with all the lines,” Roy said. “We got a big goal from the Pageau line by Holmstrom. We got a phenomenal play by Brock on that first goal, and even our defense was very involved.”

Without the penalty kill having a rare night of marginal excellence and timely goals from role players, the Islanders would’ve suffered a loss that, in all likelihood, would’ve been enough grounds to waive the white with just a little more than two weeks left until the trade deadline.

But just because the Islanders danced around defeat once doesn’t mean they’re firmly back on their feet. As big as the win over the Penguins was, it means very little if the Islanders continue their season-long one-step forward, two-step back waltz by losing in their next game against the St. Louis Blues on Thursday.

“Looking at the standings this time of year, we got to put together a streak here,” Pelech said. “That’s the only way we’re going to make up ground. Picking up a point, then two and then none every other night just isn’t enough right now. It’s great to get this win, and hopefully, it’s the start of something bigger.”




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