The New York Islanders played their first game of a home-and-home series against the Pittsburgh Penguins in a crucial game for a team looking to finish the season strong. It became a back-and-forth, high-scoring affair that had the feel of a playoff game with the Islanders edging out the Penguins 5-4 in a shootout.
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The Islanders needed the win and with their second shootout victory of the season, the team boasts a 34-29-9 record. They remain in ninth place in the Eastern Conference with their chances of reaching the Stanley Cup Playoffs looking slim. However, the recent win with the offense finding the back of the net four times in regulation was a reminder of why they are built to compete for the Cup in 2022-23.
Bailey Finding Open Shots
The Penguins turned over the puck in their zone multiple times in the game, giving the Islanders quick scoring chances and a strong offensive zone presence throughout the game. Two of the Penguins’ turnovers gave Josh Bailey quick shots from the slot and both of them caught backup goaltender Casey DeSmith off guard and found the back of the net. Bailey, who was on a six-game scoring drought, gave the Islanders two crucial goals in a game where they needed their offense to step up to win.
Bailey scoring two goals was a pleasant surprise and a sign that the Islanders are finding goals in all four of their forward lines. However, both goals were a direct result of Islanders forwards creating turnovers on the forecheck and along the boards in the offensive zone, forcing the Penguins skaters to make mistakes with the puck. The chip and chase remain a strength of the forward unit and this game was another reminder in a long season of how they can win games and pick up offense by forcing turnovers in the offensive zone.
Parise’s Two Goals
The Islanders started the scoring with Mathew Barzal leading the way. He carried the puck across the blue line and found Zach Parise with a cross-ice pass, allowing the veteran forward to find an open shot and a quick goal that tied the game. Moreover, with the goal, the Islanders returned the momentum in the first period and scored three unanswered goals as a result.
Despite being on the penalty kill, the Islanders managed to find the puck and start a rush against the Penguins’ defense. Jean-Gabriel Pageau picked up the puck in the neutral zone with a burst of speed and drew the defense and DeSmith to open up the center of the ice for Parise. Pageau created an open shot, and Parise found the back of the net for the Islanders’ second goal of the game.
Parise has scored 13 goals this season and notably has stepped up since the All-Star break, scoring 10 goals in the 33 games. The 37-year-old forward has started to find open shots in the offensive zone and is taking advantage of them. It’s unclear if Parise will play alongside Barzal next season but when the veteran skater plays alongside a playmaker, he can instinctively find open shots in the offensive zone, as he did for two goals against the Penguins.
Sorokin’s Big Night
Normally, when a goaltender allows four goals in a game it’s a disappointing start. Sorokin was facing a Penguins offense that averages 3.25 goals per game that overwhelms opponents with speed in all three zones and the young goaltender allowed four goals in regulation as a result. However, he made 43 saves in the game, the most since Game 5 of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last year, where he stopped 48 shots in a 3-2 double-overtime win against the Penguins. He also made multiple remarkable saves, keeping the Islanders in the game altogether, and continued to prove why he is one of the best athletic goaltenders in the NHL.
Moreover, Sorokin stepped up in overtime with multiple big saves on the penalty kill, ultimately forcing the game into a shootout. He capped off his great performance by holding the Penguins scoreless in the shootout to seal the 5-4 victory. The 26-year-old has proven throughout the season that he is one of the elite young goaltenders in the game and is a player the team can build around in the future.
Other Islanders Takeaways from the Win
The Islanders stepped up and won the game in a shootout but in the final period and overtime, they were playing an injury-plagued Penguins team. With both Evan Rodrigues and Bryan Rust hurt, they only had 10 forwards available, and the Islanders took advantage as they wore down the opposing roster. In addition, they didn’t have their starting goaltender, Tristan Jarry, as they turned to their backup in DeSmith, who has struggled throughout the season.
The Islanders will face the Penguins again on Thursday in Pittsburgh, concluding the home-and-home series. Their schedule continues to be a tough one that will force them to play at a high level on a nightly basis as they hope to end the season on a high note.
Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November 2020 and covers the New York Islanders. In addition to covering the Islanders, Fink has written for multiple sports blogs and platforms covering the NHL, NFL, MLB, and college sports. Follow Mike on Twitter @Finks_thoughts for more Islanders and general hockey insights.