CHICAGO – Anders Lee was a late scratch because of a non-COVID-19 stomach illness and Matt Martin was back on the fourth line for the first time since offseason ankle surgery. But the most important thing for the Islanders on Tuesday night was Ilya Sorokin was in net.
"He definitely bailed us out in the first period," Oliver Wahlstrom said.
The goalie was brilliant in making 31 of his 39 saves over the first two periods as the Islanders, with two goals from Wahlstrom in a three-goal third period, kept Chicago winless, 4-1, at United Center to earn their first victory three games into a 13-game road trip.
The Islanders had been outscored 11-4 in their opening two defeats.
"Ilya and Wahlly were on top of their game tonight," said Anthony Beauvillier, who opened the scoring with an unassisted goal at the right post at 4:08 of the second period. "I think Wahlly gave us legs, big time. Lots of shots [a game-high eight in 14:30]. Lots of chances tonight. He definitely led the way, and Ilya as well. Big saves at big moments."
Sorokin entered Tuesday’s game with an inflated, 5.09 goals-against average and a shockingly-bad .855 save percentage through the first two games. Mackenzie Entwistle, left free at the left post, ended the shutout bid with just 26.0 seconds left in the game.
He was sharp immediately against Chicago, stopping all 18 shots he faced in the first period, including five on Chicago’s first power play. Perhaps his best in the first period came as defenseman Seth Jones got behind the Islanders’ defense to the crease to take a feed only to be denied by Sorokin at 14:29.
Sorokin did even better in the second period, coming high out of his crease to stop defenseman Jake McCabe at 7:47, then turning aside Alex DeBrincat’s shorthanded breakaway off defenseman Noah Dobson’s turnover at 18:59 of the second period to preserve a one-goal lead.
"He was our best player in the first period until we got our legs under us a little bit," said coach Barry Trotz, who, before the game, said he needed Sorokin to make big saves with games still on the line. "He made a huge save on that shorthanded breakaway. That was a game changer. I wanted him to get the shutout. He deserved the shutout. But we failed in the last few seconds."
Trotz put both his forward lines and defensive pairs through a second-period blender, looking to coax a crisper performance out of his team.
Much like their first two games, the Islanders just did not appear to be playing fast enough at times. But they certainly improved as the game progressed. Wahlstrom, picking up a loose puck in Chicago’s zone, beat Marc-Andre Fleury (25 saves) through his pads for a 2-0 lead just 48 seconds into the third period and connected from the slot at 8:51. Cal Clutterbuck beat Fleury over his glove at 11:06.
Notes & quotes: Kieffer Bellows logged 12:59 with one shot and five hits in his season’s debut with Lee out…Leo Komarov cleared waivers and was reassigned to the Islanders’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport to open a roster spot for Martin…Martin caught Mike Hardman with a high hit, then fought Jujhar Khaira at 8:07 of the third period…Jean-Gabriel Pageau won 13 of 19 faceoffs and Brock Nelson won 6 of 9…Trotz is hopeful goalie Semyon Varlamov (injured reserve/soreness) will make his first start before the end of back-to-back games in Arizona and Las Vegas this weekend…There was a pregame tribute for Chicago Hall of Fame goalie Tony Esposito, who died on Aug. 10.