The injury-depleted Islanders went into the NHL’s three-day holiday break with a solid performance. Their first game after vacation was even better.
“That might have been our best game of the year,” Mathew Barzal said.
The Islanders stifled the Penguins, one of the Metropolitan Division foes they are chasing for a playoff spot, both with their defensive effort and aggressive attack in a 5-1 win on Tuesday night at UBS Arena. Still, they may have lost Oliver Wahlstrom to a head injury.
Coupled with Friday’s 5-1 win over the visiting Panthers, it gave the Islanders (20-14-2) consecutive victories for the first time since a four-game winning streak from Nov. 21-26.
Barzal scored two of the Islanders’ three goals in the second period as they held a 20-4 shot advantage. Anders Lee also had two goals and Ilya Sorokin only needed to make 19 saves.
“From start to finish I thought we were dialed in and we were doing things the right way,” coach Lane Lambert said.
Tristan Jarry stopped 38 shots for the Penguins (19-10-5), who had been on an 8-1-1 streak.
The Islanders moved within one point of the fourth-place Penguins and within four points of the second-place Devils.
“The race is so tight,” said Barzal, who made it 2-1 as he deflected Hudson Fasching’s shot just 50 seconds into the second period and then pushed it to 4-1 by lifting a sharp-angle shot that deflected in off Jarry’s left shoulder at 16:42. “It seems like one week you’re a lock for the playoffs and the next week you could be out of the playoffs. Just crucial wins against good teams.”
Impressive wins, too, considering the players the Islanders are missing. And how well replacements such as Fasching are helping.
“Unfortunately, it’s part of our game and I hope Wahlly is going to be back here soon,” said Lee, who opened the scoring at 1:03 of the first period on a one-timer off a Penguins’ turnover and closed the scoring with a rebound at the crease at 3:33 of the third period.
“You’ve kind of seen us have to deal with that of late. Unfortunately going a man down has been a little bit too accustomed to mid-game. Laner runs the bench well and guys have just have to be on their toes a little bit more and be aware of line calls.”
The Islanders were already missing right wings Kyle Palmieri (upper body), Cal Clutterbuck (upper body) and Simon Holmstrom (left leg), defenseman Adam Pelech (suspected head injury) and goalie Semyon Varlamov (lower body).
Then Wahlstrom exited at 1:27 of the first period, wobbling to the Islanders’ dressing room after defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph appeared to knock his head into the corner boards. Joseph was retaliating after Wahlstrom leveled Chad Ruhwedel, his defense partner.
“Wahlly was on the forecheck and he made a pretty good hit on him,” said Lambert, adding there was no update on Wahlstrom. “Their player was just coming over to his defense but nothing was made out of it.”
Joseph did tie it at 1-1 with a shot from the left point through traffic at 15:13 of the first period.
But Josh Bailey made it 3-1 at 11:32 on a play created by Noah Dobson. The defenseman lined up to shoot from the top of the right circle but hesitated enough to freeze Jarry as he instead fed Bailey for an open look low in the left circle.
“I had a little bit of time and I just tried to take my ice,” Dobson said. “Once I saw Bails backdoor I tried to sell it as best I could.”