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Islanders put forth a complete team effort in win over Devils

Mathew Barzal of the Islanders celebrates his first-period

Mathew Barzal of the Islanders celebrates his first-period goal against the Devils with teammates Anders Lee and Josh Bailey at Nassau Coliseum on Jan. 21, 2021. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Brock Nelson had expressed optimism earlier in the day that after totaling only one goal in the last two games, the Islanders’ offense was on the verge of clicking.

That will be the case more often than not if No. 1 center Mathew Barzal and linemate Jordan Eberle push the pace the way they did in Thursday night’s cohesive 4-1 win over the Devils at Nassau Coliseum.

"Barzy is so dynamic," Nelson said. "He can have it on his stick for extended periods of time. He can create some good looks for his linemates and everybody on the ice. One of the best players in the league offensively, so we lean on him a lot."

Eberle scored his first two goals of the season, Barzal added a goal and two assists and Anders Lee had an assist, but it wasn’t just the top line contributing.

The defensemen provided strong support on the attack, with Noah Dobson notching two assists and Nick Leddy one, and the power play went 2-for-3 after going 2-for-17 in the first three games.

"It’s really important," coach Barry Trotz said of getting the defensemen involved. "You want to have five guys on the attack. I thought our D jumped up. New Jersey is a team that plays hard and they come back really hard, so you’ve got to move the puck quick. You’ve got to jump in those holes quick."

Goalie Semyon Varlamov (30 saves) also made his third straight strong start, though his franchise-record shutout streak to start the season was snapped at 142:10. Nathan Bastian’s shot from the high slot brought the Devils within 2-1 at 2:10 of the second period.

The Islanders had Josh Bailey in the lineup after the second-line right wing was forced to miss Wednesday’s practice while making a one-day appearance on the NHL’s COVID-19-absence list.

The Devils, though, did not have No. 1 goalie Mackenzie Blackwood, who wound up on the league’s protocol list. He had gone 2-0-1 with a 1.90 goals-against average and .948 save percentage in the Devils’ first three games.

Backup goalie Scott Wedgewood (31 saves), who made his 25th career appearance and first since Feb. 13, 2018, while with the Coyotes, kept the Devils in the game into the third period.

But Eberle’s power-play goal made it 3-1 at 1:56 of the third. Dobson’s errant shot ricocheted off the lively backboards and directly onto Eberle’s stick low in the right circle, and he lifted it past Wedgewood.

Eberle had made it 2-0 with 20.9 seconds remaining in the first period as he lifted a backhander after Lee sprung him to the crease.

"You want to get off to a good start," Eberle said. "Once you put the puck in once, you start to feel it, especially getting into Game No. 3, 4, 5. You want to contribute."

Nelson added a power-play goal at 5:16 of the third period, getting to the high slot to deflect Leddy’s blue-line shot.

Barzal had given the Islanders a 1-0 lead at 4:43 of the first period, skating into the right circle, taking a feed from Bailey and snapping a blistering shot over Wedgewood’s shoulder into the upper far corner.

"I’m always trying to grow my game," Barzal said. "I think, for me, just trying to be more assertive, and when I do get a chance where it’s like pass or shoot, just kind of bear down and let one go."

The teams will complete this home-and-home series on Sunday night.

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