Outskated in the opening period Monday night, the Islanders saw firsthand why the expansion Vegas Golden Knights are off to such a magical start.
But the Islanders are forging an identity, too. They have scored as well as anyone in the league through a dozen games, and they buried Vegas in the final 40 minutes of a 6-3 win at Barclays Center.
It was the sixth straight game in which the Islanders have scored at least three goals. They’ve won five of those to move to 7-4-1. The Isles didn’t earn their seventh win until Nov. 28 a year ago, when they already were 6-10-4 and in the Eastern Conference basement.
“It’s just good to see there’s no panic in the room,” said Andrew Ladd, who scored his third goal as the Isles dropped Vegas to 8-2. “We had a couple rough ones early and tonight they were working hard, skating well and we were kind of standing still. But we’re a confident team. That’s what good teams do.”
John Tavares scored the first of his two goals on the power play at 14:50 of the second period to tie the score at 2. At the same time, Vegas goaltender Oscar Dansk left the ice with an apparent upper-body injury, becoming the third Knights goaltender to get hurt. Maxime Lagace, an undrafted 24-year-old who never had played in the NHL, was pressed into service, and the Isles treated him rudely.
Again on the power play, Anders Lee swept one off the post and the puck went right to Mathew Barzal, who netted his third of the season at 17:44. That gave the Islanders five power-play goals in two games after only two in their first 10.
It also helped make up for allowing yet another shorthanded goal, the sixth they have surrendered, to William Karlson at 9:31 of the first period.
“We obviously gave up another [shorthanded goal], and that’s too many to start the year,” Tavares said. “But we had a big response in the second.”
In the third, the Islanders counterattacked well against the very aggressive Knights. Cal Clutterbuck snapped one over Lagace at 4:44 off the rush and Nikolay Kulemin and Tavares scored on breakaways.
Tavares is second in the league with 11 goals in 12 games, including eight in his last four. Josh Bailey had three assists for the second time in three games and is among the league leaders with 11 assists.
“When your best player has that confidence, it filters throughout the room,” Ladd said. “[Vegas] is a good team, they just play hard and they’re always moving. But we didn’t give in to the ups and downs early on.”
Jaroslav Halak (31 saves) won his fourth consecutive start.
Doug Weight worried about the slow start, something that has lingered from the season’s first week — “when we have a bad shift, I’m concerned,” he said — but he can see not only his top players but some of the supporting cast raising their level.
“I thought Josh was our best player tonight. He’s been doing that for a few games now,” Weight said. “I thought [Casey Cizikas], Kulie and Clutter calmed us down, as they do, and they got rewarded. It’s a good start. You always feel you left some [points] out there, and I just hope we’re learning. Even in the third tonight, we started feeling good about ourselves and got a little away from things. But we’re learning and hopefully getting better every game.”