Other than taking a puck to the face, nothing is knocking Semyon Varlamov off his game this season.
The goalie’s second shutout in as many starts and Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s goal with 4:09 left in the third period allowed the Islanders to squeeze past the Bruins, 1-0, in Monday’s home opener. It was the first game at Nassau Coliseum since March 7 and almost certainly the final curtain-raiser at the old barn before the team moves to UBS Arena at Belmont Park.
The physical, grinding game likely is a harbinger of the playoff-style hockey that will be required to navigate a 56-game season in which the Islanders will play only East Division teams.
"Boston plays that playoff style all the time," coach Barry Trotz said. "A lot of these games are going to be pretty tight. From our standpoint, we’re pretty comfortable with these tight games. It’s something we’ve harvested playing a lot of playoff games the last two years. We just do the right things."
Varlamov, forced from his intended start in Saturday’s 5-0 loss to the Rangers at Madison Square Garden after being hit under his mask by Cal Clutterbuck’s shot in pre-game warmups, seemingly can do no wrong.
He made 27 saves to push his shutout streak to 120 minutes to start the season, breaking Rick DiPietro’s previous Islanders record of 115:35 set in 2003-04. He also became the 14th goalie in NHL history to start the season with shutouts in each of his first two starts.
"I got hit right in the face with a puck in warmups," said Varlamov, who made 24 saves in Thursday’s season-opening 4-0 win over the Rangers at the Garden. "I felt a little dizzy. It happens. I felt fine the next morning. I skated yesterday, felt pretty good after practice. Felt pretty good today."
"You never want to see anyone go down," Pageau said. "Especially a goalie after he had an impressive start, a shutout right off the bat. I think it was just good we saw him the next day. He looked better. He went through all the protocols and got cleared. We just wanted to see him healthy. To see him come back today, it shows how good he is and how his compete level is higher."
Much the same could be said of Pageau, who played a strong two-way game. Parked at the crease, he swatted defenseman Adam Pelech’s shot from the left point past Tuukka Rask (16 saves) at 15:51 of the third period.
"It was nice to score that goal," Pageau said. "It was a great play by Pelly. He got the puck to the net. I think his puck could’ve gone in. I got a stick on it just to make sure."
Pageau again centered rookie Kieffer Bellows and Ross Johnston, though Trotz limited that trio’s ice time, with the two wings each logging less than seven minutes. Pageau was on the ice for 20:20, including time on both the power play and the penalty kill and shifts with fourth-line center Casey Cizikas and Clutterbuck.
Trotz particularly used Pageau to take defensive-zone faceoffs and to thwart the Bruins’ potent top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Jake DeBrusk, who was subbing for a still-recovering David Pastrnak (hip surgery). That line had eight of the Bruins’ shots.
Varlamov made his best save moving to his left to slow Nick Ritchie’s shot from the right circle at 18:51 of the second period, with Pelech tucking it under his pads after the puck trickled through.
"That’s the best results after two games I’ve ever had," Varlamov said. "I’m glad it happened this year."