The way the Islanders exerted a tight, total team effort in Saturday afternoon’s 2-1 win over the physical Blues at UBS Arena to snap a two-game losing streak, a continuation of their improved play for much of the past seven games, only leads to questioning how much better this season could have gone had they played with this consistency earlier.
Could’ve, should’ve, would’ve.
"Today felt right," defenseman Ryan Pulock said. "Our game, top to bottom, guys doing the right things, playing hard, being physical, engaged, blocking shots. All those little things. We’re a better team than the standings. That’s on us. We haven’t been consistent enough. We’ve shown flashes here and there. We’ve got to stick with that and, every night, bring that game. You never know. There’s still a lot of hockey to be played."
It was a surprisingly chippy game for two teams that hadn’t met since Feb. 27, 2020 as the Islanders (21-23-8) continued a six-game homestand. Yet the win only brought them within 17 points of the Eastern Conference’s final wild-card spot. They are on a 3-3-1 run, though decent performances on Thursday against the Canucks and Tuesday in Colorado yielded no points.
Still, coach Barry Trotz said it’s been something to build upon.
"It’s momentum," Trotz said. "You’ve got to have some rhythm. You’ve got to have some momentum. We got shut down so many times. We didn’t have lineups. That stretch where we got COVID and they wouldn’t shut us down. It was difficult. We never could get any momentum. Now, we’re playing all the time and we’re getting some momentum and our game is falling into some better order."
Ilya Sorokin made 27 saves, including three in the final, frantic 2:52 after Robert Thomas made it 2-1 with the Blues skating six-on-five. Jordan Binnington stopped 18 shots for the Blues (32-16-6), who have lost two straight but are still on a 6-2-1 run.
The Islanders improved to 4-16-2 against teams holding a playoff position, having been outscored 73-40 in those games. They held the Blues’ power play, ranked second in the NHL, to just three shots on two unsuccessful attempts.
"A lot of energy," said Brock Nelson, whose power-play goal from the right circle gave the Islanders a 2-0 lead at 1:04 of the second period. "Emotionally, everybody was into it. Special teams both did the job and that was the difference. It’s a big win for us against a good team."
The Islanders took a 1-0 lead on Oliver Wahlstrom’s sharp-angle shot to the short side from below the left circle at 6:36 of the first period, seconds after he pounced on a loose puck in the Blues’ zone but Binnington turned aside his backhander at the crease. It was Wahlstrom’s first goal in 12 games, dating to Feb. 1.
The game could have been more comfortable for the Islanders but Kyle Palmieri, who has six goals in 10 games, had two goals disallowed.
Palmieri’s first apparent goal at 16:43 of the first period was overturned as Blues coach Craig Berube successfully challenged for goalie interference after Kieffer Bellows, setting a screen, knocked Binnington’s goalie stick out of his hands.
Palmieri’s apparent power-play goal at 11:34 of the third period was waved off upon video review for a high stick after he deflected Pulock’s blue-line wrister.
"He doesn’t have anything to show for it but I thought he played a pretty strong game," Nelson said. "He had the puck on his stick a lot. You can tell he’s feeling his game right now. He’s got a lot of confidence."