LAS VEGAS – The Islanders lost a game they absolutely deserved to lose on Thursday night.
The Golden Knights controlled play for all but the final 1:30 of the first period and rallied from a two-goal deficit to snap the Islanders’ three-game winning streak with a 4-2 victory at T-Mobile Arena.
“The last 40 minutes, we were all kind of fighting the puck a little bit, trying to fight the game,” captain Anders Lee said. “We’re pretty frustrated, to be honest.”
An under-siege Thomas Greiss made 43 saves for the Islanders (17-13-4), who conclude this four-game road trip Sunday night at Dallas. Marc-Andre Fleury needed to make just 19 saves for Vegas.
“I’d say we weren’t committed as we were in the first period,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “Our bench wasn’t as focused as it needed to be. That’s on me and the group. I’ve got to settle it down.”
The Golden Knights (20-15-2), who have won six straight at home, finally took control on the scoreboard in the third period as William Karlsson, on a four-on-four goal, tied the score at 2 at 6:22. Paul Stastny made it 3-2 at 7:25.
Oscar Lindberg caught Islanders defenseman Johnny Boychuk with an illegal check to the head – Boychuk missed time as he cleared concussion protocol in the third period – but it became a four-on-four at 5:21 as Anthony Beauvillier confronted Lindberg. Nate Schmidt’s empty-netter clinched it.
“I didn’t really like the hit,” Beauvillier said. “I don’t think any guy on the bench liked the hit.”
“Our four-on-four stunk,” Trotz added. “That was a legit head shot, right off the bat. He was bent over but that’s when you put the brakes on.”
Vegas also beat the Islanders, 3-2, on Dec. 12 at Barlcays Center, rallying from a 2-1 deficit in that game despite being held to 17 shots.
One of the Islanders’ strengths this season has been an improved defense under Trotz but they reverted to past form in the second period as they scrambled in their own zone, frequently fumbled the puck and went 14:33 without getting a chance on net as they were outshot 18-5.
Ex-Ranger Brandon Pirri, called up to replace the injured Max Pacioretty, brought Vegas within 2-1 at 8:48 of the second period. The Golden Knights thought they had tied it on an Alex Tuch goal at 15:26 as defenseman Ryan Pulock crashed into Greiss and knocked the puck over the goal line. But the Islanders successfully challenged that Tuch was offside.
Trotz, who knows exactly how frenetic the atmosphere in the building can be after leading the Capitals to the Stanley Cup with a five-game win over the Golden Knights last season and hoisted the prize in Vegas, was concerned about the Islanders weathering the game’s first few minutes.
And Vegas did start strong, taking seven of the game’s first eight shots. Greiss was forced into several tough saves, including turning aside Tuch on a partial breakaway at 12:34.
But the Islanders slowly started to apply pressure – Lee, off the rush on the right, hit the near post with the puck deflecting into Fleury’s glove as he sprawled at 10:31 – and took a 2-0 lead on goals in the final 1:30 of the first period.
First, Josh Bailey won an offensive zone faceoff in the left circle and fed Mathew Barzal skating across the high slot for a lightning wrist shot. Then, Brock Nelson converted on a rush with 21.1 seconds to go. Pulock had the secondary assist on Nelson’s goal, giving him five in the last three games.