Even before Mathew Barzal took a close look at a replay of his mesmerizing, highlight-reel goal that quickly went viral on social media, he listed it among the top two or three in his career.
More important than trending popularity, Barzal’s between-the-legs effort sparked a four-goal second period and a second straight 5-2 win for the Islanders over the East Division-trailing Sabres on Saturday afternoon at Nassau Coliseum. It moved the Islanders into first place in the division.
"Barzy scoring a goal and how he did it, that lit a little bit of fire in us," said Anders Lee, who closed the scoring with his team-leading 11th goal at 2:15 of the third period. "I mean, we’ve seen him do stuff like that all the time. But that’s high-level hockey right there and, honestly, just fun to see."
The Islanders (14-6-4) have won four straight and extended their point streak to 6-0-1. They will continue a five-game homestand on Sunday afternoon by concluding a three-game series with the Sabres (6-13-3), who are in an 0-5-1 skid and are 2-9-1 since resuming play after a COVID-19 outbreak.
Sabres first-year general manager Kevyn Adams, speaking to the media Friday, repeatedly called his team’s performance "unacceptable" and said the job status of coach Ralph Krueger is under evaluation.
Saturday’s second period may have sealed Krueger’s fate in Buffalo. Barzal started the barrage at 3:51 with his one-on-one effort against defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen to tie the score at 1. Barzal shielded the puck from his bigger opponent, muscled to the crease and went between his legs to get the puck on his forehand and push it past goalie Carter Hutton (24 saves).
"It all happened pretty quick," said Barzal, the Islanders’ point leader with nine goals and 13 assists after his fifth multi-point game. "I know he’s coming over to play me there and it’s kind of a rolling puck. I tried to put it to an area that he can’t get a stick on it.
"Once I knew I had body position, I felt him a little bit off-balance. It’s kind of a move that you do instinctual and kind of just messing around with it in practice. It was a lot of instincts and just being in the moment and just reacting."
"That’s a pretty nice goal," said Cal Clutterbuck, who took Matt Martin’s feed at the net to make it 3-1 at 8:45 of the second period. "He’s got special ability, that’s for sure. Just an all-encompassing goal. A lot of speed, great edge work, great awareness in tight on the goalie. It draws us even and allows us to play our game. Great effort and a great goal for us."
The Islanders scored their four goals on nine second-period shots, though Hutton was not the culprit behind his faulty defense.
Brock Nelson’s rising wrist shot from the slot made it 2-1 at 5:16 and Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s forecheck allowed Casey Cizikas to find defenseman Scott Mayfield cutting to the crease to make it 4-1 at 15:29.
The Sabres, no doubt with their GM’s words ringing in their helmets, had good jump to start the first period. Defenseman Jacob Bryson scored his first NHL goal 33 seconds in on a soft shot from the left wall past the screened Semyon Varlamov (20 saves).
The Sabres got another quick goal as Sam Reinhart tipped Rasmus Dahlin’s shot from the point 52 seconds into the third period to make it 4-2.
"We knew they were going to come out with a little bit of jump after the last game and everything," said Mayfield, who had his first multi-point game of the season with an assist on the goal by Barzal. "I liked our response."
And everyone loved Barzal’s sensational goal.