The New York Islanders were embarrassed by their poor showing in the season opener Friday night, so they took command early in the home opener on Saturday and skated to a convincing 6-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres in front of 15,234 fans at the Barclays Center. John Tavares and Casey Cizikas each scored twice for the Isles while Jaroslav Halak made 26 saves including some big stops at key times in the contest.
The game featured four short-handed goals in the second period with each team netting a pair of scores while the other club had the extra attacker.
The Isles were shutout in the season opener, but it took only 1:50 for the team to get on the board against the Sabres and goalie Robin Lehner tonight. Jordan Eberle picked up his first point as an Islander when he made a pinpoint cross ice pass to Tavares who waited patiently as Lehner lunged across his crease before depositing the puck in the net.
Scoring early was important psychologically for the Islanders. “The first goal is always big,” Tavares said. “Obviously we didn’t get a goal last night so it was nice for us just to break the ice and start off on the right foot.”
The Islanders carried the play early and were aggressive on the forecheck whenever the Sabres had the puck. That forced turnovers and created scoring chances. The Sabres rallied and played better later in the opening stanza but Halak made several big saves to keep the score 1-0 after 20 minutes.
The shorthanded goal parade started in the second period.The turning point of the game came at 4:50 of the middle stanza when Isles defenseman Scott Mayfield went to the net to try to get his own rebound and shoved a Sabres defender into Lehner, knocking him to the ice. Lehner may have been woozy after that because he allowed three quick goals in the next 2:10 to give the Isles a commanding 4-0 lead.
First Tavares and Cizikas scored 50 seconds apart while the Isles were killing Mayfield’s penalty to give the Isles a 3-0 lead. Josh Bailey scored 57 seconds after Cizikas when Joshua Ho-Sang found him with a perfect pass just after he left the penalty box and suddenly the Isles led 4-0. Sabres coach Phil Housley had seen enough and lifted Lehner for Chad Johnson.
Buffalo managed to get back in the game with two shorthanded goals of their own before the second period was over. Evander Kane scored both goals for the Sabres. The first was set up by a poor clearing attempt by Halak, the second by a turnover inside the Isles zone.
Halak made one of his biggest saves in the closing minutes of the second period when he stoned ex-Islander Kyle Okposo with a fast glove hand from point-blank range.
The Isles seemed to put the game away when Anthony Beauvillier netted his first goal of the season at 5:39 of the third period, but Jack Eichel gave the home crowd a scare when he scored with 3:44 left in the third period to again make it a two-goal game. Mathew Barzal took a careless slashing penalty with 3:08 left in regulation to give Buffalo a chance to get closer but the Isles killed off the penalty and put the game away on an empty-net tally by Cizikas in the final minute.
While the team could still improve in several areas, the Isles were very pleased to get their first victory of the season and they recognized the importance of bouncing back from their poor showing on opening night.
“I’ve been on teams that have started poorly,” Eberle said. “Confidence-wise, it buries you and you think you’re not a good team. It puts you in a hole. Getting off to a good start is huge in the NHL season. It’s gives you confidence that you can play and that you’re one of the better teams and I know it was only game two but it was definitely a pivitol game.”
The Islanders return to action Monday afternoon when they host the St. Louis Blues on a Columbus Day matinee.
Nick Leddy played in his 500th career NHL game.
With his two-goal performance, Tavares moved past Bobby Nystrom for eighth place on the Islanders all-time goal scoring list. He now needs one more to catch Bob Bourne. Nystrom was in attendance tonight.
Cal Clutterbuck missed the game due to an injury he sustatined in the season-opener against Columbus. Dennis Seidenberg was scratched in favor of Mayfield.
Calvin de Haan and Tavares both finished the game with a plus-three rating.
Brock Nelson won 7-of-9 faceoffs he took to lead the Isles in that department.