A blowout win over the Ducks after their long flight from the West Coast is no more an indicator of how the Islanders will fare this season than their season-opening loss two nights prior.
But there sure was a lot more of what new coach Lane Lambert is trying to coax out of the Islanders in Saturday night’s 7-1 win at UBS Arena. They carried the play in all three zones and played with a consistent pace – particularly in transition and counterattacking – that was lacking in Thursday night’s loss to the visiting Panthers.
“I was confident because of the good things I saw in Game 1,” said Lambert, who earned his first win as an NHL bench boss. “I talked about little pockets that needed to be improved upon. We moved the puck a little quicker and we were together as a group. As a result, that led to more transition.”
The Islanders defensemen were consistently pushing the attack – something Lambert has stressed since training camp opened – and Scott Mayfield, who turned 30 on Friday, notched the first two-goal game of his career. Robin Salo also had his first career two-goal game – the Islanders hadn’t gotten two goals from two defensemen in a game since 1993 – and Noah Dobson scored his second goal of the young season.
“It’s something we want to implement a little bit more as part of our game plan,” said Mayfield, who opened the scoring at 10:34 of the first period as he got to the crease to poke in Anders Lee’s feed, then connected from the right point to make it 4-0 at 12:55 of the second period. “It starts with the forwards being able to backcheck and help us out. That allows us to jump up.”
Ilya Sorokin made 22 saves as he started a second straight game, his shutout bid ended by Troy Terry at 1:29 of the third period.
Cal Clutterbuck, activated off injured reserve after experiencing shoulder soreness, and Oliver Wahlstrom both returned to the Islanders’ lineup. Wahlstrom became the first Islanders forward to score this season when he converted a breakaway backhander to make it 3-0 at 5:34 of the second period.
“We want to play fast,” Wahlstrom said. “Quick ups and be an aggressive team. It showed tonight. It’s still early in the season but I think we’re going to come along strong here. The 'D' got the puck up quick and then it’s all about making the right reads and the right decisions over the blue line. Everybody was hungry to put the puck in the net tonight.”
The Islanders started outskating the Ducks after a sluggish, few, opening minutes by both sides in the first period. Passes in their own zone weren’t going from defenseman to defenseman – as Lambert said was the case too often on Thursday – but up to the forwards in the neutral zone to start the attack.
Mayfield – who had three goals all last season – gave the Islanders their first lead of the season and first five-on-five goal after the Panthers outscored them, 2-0, skating five-on-five. Dobson scored through Matt Martin’s screen of John Gibson (22 saves before being pulled after two periods) to make it 2-0 at 12:08 of the first period.
Salo’s two goals came in the third period after Anthony Beauvillier had made it 5-0 at 14:27 of the second period.
“Looking back at the previous game, we did less of what we wanted to do than we had previously in the preseason,” said Lee, who had three assists. “When you can feel the differences, it’s pretty easy to adapt.”