Elmont, NY — Led by their depth, the New York Islanders defeated the Buffalo Sabres to stay atop the wild-card race with a 3-2 win on Tuesday night.
The Islanders are now 33-25-8, with a one-point lead over the Pittsburgh Penguins, their next opponent.
Anders Lee-Bo Horvat-Pierre Engvall
Zach Parise-Brock Nelson-Kyle Palmieri
Matt Martin-Casey Cizikas-Hudson Fasching
Ross Johnston-Otto Koivula-Josh Bailey
Adam Pelech-Scott Mayfield
Alexander Romanov-Ryan Pulock
Sebastian Aho-Noah Dobson
Similar to the last time these two teams met, the New York Islanders did not generate much, especially early on. At one point in the first, the Buffalo Sabres were outshooting the Islanders 4-1, but after the opening twenty, the shots were even at eight.
The Islanders won 76 percent of the draws in the first.
The pressure was on a bit more frequently for New York early in the second, but after a neutral zone breakdown, Sabres forward Dylan Cozens took advantage, sneaking past Bo Horvat and Adam Pelech before beating Ilya Sorokin blocker side with 15:00 to play in the middle frame.
As head coach Lane Lambert mixed his lines up, Hudson Fasching and Casey Cizikas went to work tying the contest at one at 12:38 of the second. After winning a puck battle down low, Fasching found Cizikas on the doorstep, and he made no mistake, quickly beating Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen through the legs for his fifth of the season.
That was Cizikas’s first goal in 21 games, while Fasching notched his third assist over his last four games.
“You always want to chip in offensively,” Cizikas said. “It’s always nice to to do that. I think your game starts from our own end, and then we push forward from there, and we’ve continued to do that, we’ve continued to work hard at that, and to get rewarded tonight is definitely nice.”
Following that goal, momentum shifted drastically to New York’s side.
The Islanders got a power play shortly after scoring, but the top unit failed to beat Luukkonen, who had been sharp. Bo Horvat rang a one-timer off the iron.
After two periods of play, tied at one, the Islanders led 25-15 in shots.
When the Islanders needed a goal in the third, Josh Bailey got them one as he hopped on a deflected Alexander Romanov shot for his eighth of the season and second in three games. Cizikas was the one who deflected the shot as he collected his second point of the game.
Bailey only played 11:38, which included just 46 seconds of five-on-five play in the first.
Lambert credited his professionalism for how he handled his ice time.
“You just can’t say enough about him, and it’s just his character,” Lambert said. “It’s his personality, and it’s his character. He’s a quality character individual who comes to work no matter what, and sometimes, maybe it’s not exactly what he’s looking for, what he wants, but at the end of the day, he just comes out and does his job, and full respect for him and I’m glad that he was rewarded.”
Former Islander forward Kyle Okposo tied the game at two as his floater from the blue line beat Sorokin through a screen with 15:01 to play in the third.
Like an infomercial, “But wait, there’s more!”
Two and a half minutes following Okposo’s goal, Fasching scored his fourth of the season, off his knee, to give the Islanders a 4-3 lead 7:37 into the final frame for his second point of the night and his fourth in his last four.
Initially called “no goal” for a kick, a long replay overturned the call.
“It feels great,” Fasching said. “Obviously, you just want to contribute, try to help the team win games. Obviously, it’s a big game. So it feels awesome.”
Bailey notched his second point of the game, with Scott Mayfield notching the secondary assist.
Depth was critical in the win.
“I thought guys stepped up to the plate,” Lambert said. “It’s not always going to be certain guys on certain nights, and you need that secondary help.
The Islanders entered the game outscoring opponents 13-0 in the third period over their last eight games. With two goals in the third, the Islanders have outscored opponents 15-1 over their previous nine third periods.
Then, as the Islanders have as of late, they shut the game down, with shift after shift deep in the Sabres zone en route to the 3-2 win.
In his second game with the Islanders, Pierre Engvall did not play the final 15:01.
“He’s new here. It’s a different adjustment,” Lambert said. “There’s an adjustment to systems and things like that. He’s fine. He’ll be fine.
“We went with guys that were a little bit more used to what we were doing and will continue to work with that, and Pierre will be fine.”
UP NEXT: The New York Islanders face the Pittsburgh Penguins Thursday night at PPG Paints Arena, with puck drop at 7 PM.