Playing the same team three straight times is never easy. The East Division-leading Islanders just made it look that way against the last-place Sabres.
The Islanders earned their third straight 5-2 win over Buffalo on Sunday afternoon at Nassau Coliseum, extending their winning streak to five games and their point streak to 7-0-1. Brock Nelson scored twice, including an empty-netter, and rookie Ilya Sorokin stopped 24 shots for his third straight win.
"You see them three times in a row, all in our building, it’s a mini-series," said Anders Lee, who scored his sixth goal in six games against the Sabres this season and has a team-leading 12. "That third game is tough, especially on a back-to-back. We knew that coming in. We just did a really good job of sticking to our game. Just a good team effort from all around."
The Islanders (15-6-4) got goals from three of their four lines Sunday. Their identity-setting fourth line of Casey Cizikas between Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin totaled five goals and 11 points in the three games against the Sabres.
Still, the reeling Sabres (6-14-3), who are in an 0-6-1 skid and are 2-10-1 since resuming their season after a two-week COVID-19 shutdown, cut their deficit to one in the third period after the Islanders’ three-goal second period.
"They’re playing hard and they capitalized on their chances," said Cizikas, who made it 3-0 at 16:56 of the second period after taking Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s cross-crease feed. "But we always say we bend but we didn’t break. That was a full team effort in the third period. That was shutting them down and Clutter getting that big goal in the end."
Clutterbuck, who also scored Saturday, collected the puck after defenseman Brandon Davidson’s turnover at the Sabres’ blue line and roofed a backhander past Jonas Johansson (25 saves) to make it 4-2 at 12:57 of the third period. The Sabres had closed to 3-2 on defenseman Colin Miller’s shot past Sorokin’s glove at 9:35.
"It was a big goal," Clutterbuck said. "I just saw Marty flip a puck out, he made a really good play under pressure. The puck took a bounce and, fortunately, I was able to change directions quickly enough to grab it. I knew I wanted to pull it to my backhand and elevate it. It worked out."
The Islanders are 12th in the NHL with 73 goals scored (2.92 per game) and, more importantly, fifth with a plus-17 goal differential.
The scoring balance, with coach Barry Trotz solidifying his lines with Michael Dal Colle and rookie Oliver Wahlstrom playing on Pageau’s third line for a sixth straight game, has been crucial.
"If you only have one or two lines going, if you shut that line down, then you’re playing with a really fine edge," Trotz said. "When you’re getting production through your whole lineup, you’re putting the other team on that fine edge because they know if they get shut down with one or two of their lines, you can hurt them in different areas."
The Isles scored three goals on 11 second-period shots after scoring four times on nine shots in Saturday’s second period.
Lee made it 1-0 at 5:13, six seconds after the second and final Islanders power play expired. Nelson quickly pushed it to 2-0 from the slot at 6:15.
Jeff Skinner spoiled Sorokin’s shutout bid when he came from behind the crease to make it 3-1 at 5:41 of the third period. It was the first goal of the season for Skinner, who is on an eight-year, $72 million deal.
Sign up for Newsday’s Islanders texts with a 14-day free trial at newsday.com/islestext.