The Islanders spent almost two periods playing as if they still were on their three-day Christmas break . . . or looking ahead one night to their first meeting with former captain John Tavares.
“At the [first] intermission, we said we’ve got to figure it out and wake up a little bit,” Mathew Barzal said. “Kind of a Christmas slump.”
But Barzal, with his first two-goal, three-point game of the season, fueled the Islanders’ four-goal third period in a 6-3 win over the Senators on Friday night before a crowd of 13,434 at Barclays Center, the second largest this season in Brooklyn.
When the Islanders open a two-game road trip at Toronto on Saturday night, it will be their first chance to face Tavares since he signed a seven-year deal with his hometown Maple Leafs this past summer. Tavares had two goals in a 4-2 win at Columbus on Friday night.
“I know he has got a lot of good friends in our room,” coach Barry Trotz said. “They do have a little bit of hurt. They understand it. But they’d like to have him as a teammate and he decided he didn’t need them as teammates anymore.”
Robin Lehner stopped all 10 shots he faced for the Islanders (19-13-4) after relieving Thomas Greiss in the second period.
“We should have been there right off the hop, but we weren’t for some reason,” said defenseman Johnny Boychuk, who tied the score at 3 with a slap shot from the right point at 2:57 of the third period. “We usually do a good job for Greisser. Tonight, we didn’t. When Lehner came in, it was just a wake-up call to get our act in gear and start being emotionally invested.”
The Islanders went 3-1-0 on their pre-break road trip, which ended with Sunday night’s 3-1 win at Dallas.
“Nothing surprises me that first game back after a break, absolutely nothing,” said Trotz, who had to reconfigure his lineup with top-line right wing Jordan Eberle (stiffness) and fourth-line right wing Cal Clutterbuck (lower body) out.
Barzal gave the Islanders their first lead with a wrist shot from the right circle that beat Mike McKenna over his glove at 4:51 of the third and made it a two-goal lead off the rush at 12:24. Casey Cizikas clinched it with his career-high 10th goal, an empty-netter with 54 seconds left.
“It’s massive,” Cizikas said of the comeback win. “Especially after that road trip. We don’t want to let that fall away. We came to life, but periods like that can’t happen at the start of games.”
One mistake cost the Islanders badly in the first period. Defenseman Adam Pelech had his weak backhanded pass from behind the crease intercepted by Mark Stone, who beat Greiss with a high wrist shot for a 1-0 lead at 16:18.
McKenna equaled Pelech’s gaffe with his own in the second period after trying to play the puck behind his crease. Barzal intercepted the puck and fed Josh Bailey for the right wing’s first goal in 14 games to cut the Senators’ lead to 2-1 at 3:11.
Matt Duchene’s power-play goal at 2:47 of the second period had given Ottawa a 2-0 lead. Defenseman Cody Ceci ended Greiss’ night with a wrist shot that gave the Senators a 3-1 lead at 6:11 of the second period.
Anders Lee brought the Islanders within 3-2 at 17:28 of the second period on another turnover-fed goal as the Senators’ Nick Paul could not control the puck deep in his zone.