Maybe it was the Islanders returning to NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum for the first time in 10 games. Maybe it was the new lines that featured some unexpected combinations.
But this was a much better effort than many over the last three weeks.
And a highly entertaining one played mostly at a breakneck pace.
“I liked our game, all [the] minutes,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “It was two very good teams that went nose-to-nose. It was a man’s game. It was fast. It was physical. There was some excellent play on both sides. Good goaltending.”
Fittingly, the Islanders beat the Vegas Golden Knights, 3-2, Thursday night on defenseman Ryan Pulock’s power-play goal at 3:20 of overtime after Mathew Barzal drew a tripping penalty on Jonathan Marchessault.
“It was probably one of the faster games we’ve played this year,” said Pulock, who got the puck from Anders Lee near the blue line and skated below the faceoff dots before connecting on a wrist shot. “I wanted to give myself the best chance. The puck was kind of rolling when I got it. So, I was trying to settle it down, too, and put myself in a good shooting area.”
Semyon Varlamov made 31 saves for the Islanders (19-6-2) and Malcolm Subban stopped 28 shots for the Golden Knights (15-11-5), who had their four-game winning streak snapped.
The Islanders’ previous game at the Coliseum was a 5-4 win over the Maple Leafs on Nov. 13. They are 6-3-1 since then but with just two wins in regulation and this was easily their best effort in that span.
Tuesday night’s 4-2 loss at Montreal was one of their poorer ones and that prompted Trotz to incongruously place bruiser Ross Johnston on top-line center Barzal’s left wing while also using pesty Leo Komarov with fluid skaters Brock Nelson and Anthony Beauvillier.
His goal was to focus his forwards into a simpler, more aggressive game.
“Honestly, I think our game wasn’t really there for the last couple of weeks in spots,” said right wing Cal Clutterbuck, who opened the scoring as he kept the puck on a three-on-one rush at 4:26 of a crowd-pleasing second period. “Sometimes, a good team coming into your building and a good test is a good way to re-establish that. We’ve got to carry that on the road with us.”
The Islanders, in a stretch of 10 of 13 on the road that ends next Thursday, open a three-game trip at Dallas on Saturday night.
Nelson put the Islanders ahead, 2-1, at 3:56 of the third period from the left circle on a goal created by Beauvillier’s hard work on the forecheck. Beauvillier, going behind the Golden Knights’ net, outworked defenseman Jon Merrill for the puck and fed Nelson.
“With Beau’s speed, he can get in on the forecheck and create some turnovers and make some plays,” Nelson said. “That’s just an example of that.”
But Vegas tied it at 2 at 15:28 after Komarov failed to clear the zone and Marchessault shot the puck after defenseman Nicolas Hague lost it as he dragged it around Komarov in the left circle.
Alex Tuch, with a shot off Nick Leddy’s stick that deflected over Varlamov’s far shoulder, had tied it at 1 at 15:27 of the second period.
“I thought we had a really great second period and we were tied,” Trotz said. “It was a good test. We got the two points at the end. It was a great atmosphere. One of our better games of the year, for sure.”