It’s hard to make out what is more astounding. The fact that New York Islanders hadn’t given Ilya Sorokin a lead to work with before Tuesday night or just how good their record is when they score the first goal.
The two ideas went hand in hand in the Islanders 3-0 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday, which was Sorokin’s first NHL victory of his career. The rookie netminder made 20 saves and looked the most confident that he has in his first four starts this year.
What likely helped was that the Islanders had given Sorokin an early lead to play with, instead of trailing as they had done in his previous three starts. “It’s better when you start 2-0,” Sorokin said with a chuckle after the game.
That certainly has been the case for the Islanders through the first 15 games of the season. The Islanders are 6-1-1 when they have scored the first goal this year, compared to their 1-3-2 record when they allow the first goal.
That makes Anders Lee’s first-period goal such an important part of Tuesday’s narrative in Buffalo. The early goal set the tone for the Islanders early on and put them in the driver’s seat less than five minutes into the game.
The goal itself was an impressive one. It was a good play that started with a good give and go between Noah Dobson and Josh Bailey and ended with a tap-in goal for Lee.
Dobson was able to create the scoring chance with a crisp cross-ice pass to Lee, who caught Linus Ullmark out of position.
What a pass and what a finish 🤩 pic.twitter.com/kF9f6ylZbt
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) February 17, 2021
“Saw (Lee) coming down the backside and just tried to give him an opportunity to get a shot off,” Dobson said of the play. “He made a heck of a play to bury that one and great play by both (Bailey) and (Lee).”
In the grand scheme, the goal helped put the Islanders in a position to more easily handle the Buffalo push back that came later on in the period and throughout the game. Jean-Gabriel padded the lead later in the period and the Islanders withstood the Buffalo surge.
Despite controlling the play, Buffalo only registered three shots in the second period and only 20 through the full 60 minutes.
“Just to get that lead, we know we’re a good team to protect the lead,” Pageau said. “I think it’s good for all of us.”