The numbers, at least, told a one-sided story.
The Islanders, on a season-high 45 shots and two goals from fourth-liner Matt Martin to highlight a balanced attack, opened a five-game homestand and the first of three straight against the East Division-trailing Sabres with a 5-2 win on Thursday night at Nassau Coliseum. Rookie Ilya Sorokin needed to make only 16 saves for his third straight win.
But Islanders coach Barry Trotz saw a closer game.
"The shots are deceiving," he said. "I looked at the chances after the first period and I thought they had some really good looks. They don’t show up as chances in some of the analytics because the puck is delivered wide or it’s not a shot on net. I thought they had as many as we did, but they failed on them and we were able to capitalize on ours."
Either way, the Islanders (13-6-4) equaled the East Division-leading Capitals (13-5-4) with 30 points. They have won three straight and are on a 5-0-1 streak.
"We feel we have four lines and three sets of D that can contribute," said Jordan Eberle, who made it 4-1 at 3:14 of the third period. "The minutes across the board most nights are fairly even, and that’s just Barry having confidence in everybody. That’s what makes our team such a good hockey club is we win by committee and each guy has a role."
The Sabres (6-12-3) lost their fourth in a row and are 2-8-1 since resuming play after a forced two-week break because of a COVID-19 outbreak.
The teams also will play Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Sorokin, who had the third- longest rookie shutout streak in Islanders history snapped at 143:08, likely will start one of those games.
"I don’t think it matters who we play," said Casey Cizikas, who had the primary assists on each of Martin’s goals. "We know the way we have to play to be successful. Every single game we have to play that way or it gets ugly. We’ve had times during the season where we’ve gotten away from our game and teams have been all over us. It’s not a matter of who we play. It’s a matter of how we play."
Sorokin earned his first NHL victory — and shutout — with 20 saves in a 3-0 road win over the Sabres on Feb. 16. He followed that with another 20-save shutout in Sunday’s 2-0 victory over the Penguins at the Coliseum in his first home start.
Former Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall ended a 19-game goal drought to cut the Islanders’ lead to 2-1 at 3:08 of the second period. The Islanders regained a two-goal advantage on Anthony Beauvillier’s breakaway backhander at 14:58 of the second period. Josh Bailey started the rush at the Islanders’ blue line, poking the puck away from defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen.
Defenseman Noah Dobson scored his second goal of the season to make it 1-0 at 10:25 of the first period off Eberle’s patient cross-ice feed.
Martin made it 2-0 at 16:21 with a sharp-angle shot from the left (he was behind the goal line) that he banked in off the mask of Jonas Johansson, who made his second start of the season.
"Initially I was looking to find Casey and [Cal] Clutterbuck around the net and they weren’t really open," Martin said. "I took a look at the goalie and saw that he was down. I just tried to put it there. Luckily, I was able to hit my spot."
Martin also ended the scoring by muscling to the crease at 14:28 of the third period.
Sign up for Newsday’s Islanders texts with a 14-day free trial at newsday.com/islestext.