Mathew Barzal

Islanders are rolling: 14-0-1 stretch harkens to 1982 glory

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NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Islanders insist they don’t think about how well they are playing. They are too busy preparing for their next opponent.

However, win after win after win has added up to a point streak the franchise hasn’t seen since its Stanley Cup dynasty days,

Since opening the season with three losses in four games, the Islanders are 14-0-1 while matching the team points record set during a 15-game winning streak from Jan. 21 to Feb. 21, 1982, in the midst of their run of four straight Cup titles (1980-83).

“The teams they’ve had in the past, they’re legendary teams,” coach Barry Trotz said. “I don’t know if it means anything right now because we’re so focused on just the next game and then just this season. I think when you look back, when you’re done, you can say, ‘Hey, remember that streak we had?’”

The Islanders have earned points in 15 straight games for just the fourth time, with the previous three coming long before teams earned a point for losing in overtime and long before shootouts (1978, 1980 and 1982).

They have pulled it off different ways. The Islanders have given up the first goal seven times, trailed after one period four times and after two periods twice. They won three times in overtime and twice in shootouts. At Philadelphia on Saturday, the Islanders trailed 3-0 in the third period before scoring three times in the last 12:14 to tie it and then winning in a shootout. At Pittsburgh on Tuesday, New York scored twice in the last 4:19 to tie the score 4-4 before winning in overtime.

The two comebacks made the Islanders the first team in NHL history to win consecutive games in which it trailed by multiple goals in the final seven minutes of regulation.

“There’s going to be games when you’re down in the score and you have to find to kind of get back in the game,” said veteran forward Derick Brassard, who has had a resurgence in his first season with the Islanders.

Trotz, in his second year in New York, has repeatedly said his players are so focused on the upcoming game they wouldn’t know about it except for reporters.

“The media seems to keep bringing it up, so we’re understanding the numbers now,” he said, “but really the mentality has been just look at the next game.”

Mathew Barzal has led the way with nine goals, but seven other players have scored at least three goals in the run. The goaltending has been stellar, with Thomas Greiss 7-0-0 with a 1.69 goals-against average and Semyon Varlamov 7-0-1 (2.45 GAA).

“We have a group of people that put a great plan in place for us and then we’ve got a group of guys who have committed themselves to going out there and executing that plan 100% of the time,” veteran forward Cal Clutterbuck said. “It’s never perfect but our goal is to make sure that mental errors don’t get in the way of us winning hockey games, and I think we’ve been able to do that over time.”

To set a new team point streak record, the Islanders will have to do it against the Penguins in the back end of the home-and-home set Thursday night. Pittsburgh is responsible ending New York’s two longest winning streaks – the 15-game run in 1982 and the 10-game stretch earlier this month on Nov. 7. In that loss, the Islanders took a 3-0 into the third period at home before the Penguins tied it and then won in overtime for New York’s only blemish since Oct. 11.

The Islanders were a surprise team last year, reaching the playoffs in the first year under Trotz and president and general manager Lou Lamoriello. New York led the Metropolitan Division for a chunk of the season before finishing second and then reaching the second round. After the Islanders returned largely the same team this season without any big-name additions, many predicted a regression.

The Islanders are proving their doubters wrong again.

“Anyone that doubts us can doubt us, that’s up to them,” Clutterbuck said, “but there’s no doubt in here.”

Islanders point streak reaches 15 games thanks to another crazy comeback

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PITTSBURGH — At this point you have to stop trying to figure out the New York Islanders and this incredible run they are on.

Are they most talented roster on paper? No they are not. Do they play an exciting brand of hockey? Not really. Does their success defy almost analytical evidence we think we know about why teams win and lose? You bet it does. And do you know what? None of it matters. They just keep collecting points. They just keep winning.

They are just good.

Thanks to a late third period rally on Tuesday night in Pittsburgh, they were able to erase a two-goal deficit with six minutes to play in regulation to earn a 5-4 overtime win, extending their current point streak to 15 games (14-0-1).

Along with that streak they also have an .816 points percentage that is tops in the entire league.

Last year their success left the non-believers (like me) perplexed for all of the reasons mentioned above, always waiting for the inevitable regression to hit (even into this season!). But sometimes you just have to take the loss (like everyone else currently is against the Islanders), admit you’re wrong, and stop trying to make sense of it.

The impressive thing about Tuesday’s comeback is they managed to score five goals on a night where their best and most dangerous offensive player — Mathew Barzal — was completely held off the scoresheet.

The big line was the the trio of Brock Nelson, Anthony Beauvillier, and Derick Brassard.

When that trio was on the ice during 5-on-5 play they controlled possession against the Penguins and held a 2-0 margin on the scoreboard, before also being on the ice for the game-tying goal (in a 6-on-5 situation) in the final two minutes.

Once the game reached overtime Nelson and Beauvillier teamed up for the winner in the 3-on-3.

This come-from-behind win comes after the Islanders erased a three-goal deficit against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday to pick up a 4-3 win.

Islanders coach Barry Trotz said on Tuesday that he felt the effort was better on Saturday than it was in Pittsburgh and that the team just needs to keep focus on getting better every game, no matter how many games their point streak reaches.

Trotz was asked if the streak brings any added motivation each night, a suggestion he quickly dismissed while trying to claim the team wouldn’t even be aware of it if they weren’t being asked about it every day.

“Not really,” said Trotz when asked about the motivation factor. “The funny thing is the only ones that are talking about are the media. Honestly, and this is with all true honesty, we wouldn’t even know. Our team would have no clue if we won 10 in a row, or five in a row, we would just know we haven’t lost in a while. That has been our mentality, but the media keeps bringing it up so we are starting to understand the numbers now but the mentality has been just get better for the next game.”

Their only loss since Oct. 11 was a 4-3 overtime loss at home (after leading 3-0 in the third period) to the same Penguins team they rallied against on Tuesday.

They will have a chance to continue the streak on Thursday when they face the Penguins again.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Buzzer: Eichel scores 4; Milestones for Stamkos, Coach Q

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Three Stars

1. Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres. Entering play on Saturday the Sabres had lost seven of eight, were riding a six-game losing streak, and needed something to go their way to get things back on track. Their captain came to the rescue in a big way. Eichel scored four goals and provided all of the offense for the Sabres in a 4-2 win over the Ottawa Senators. It was the 10th four-goal game in Sabres franchise history and the first since Thomas Vanek did it during the 2009-10 season. It is already the the fourth four-goal game in the NHL this season, joining David Pastrnak, Anthony Mantha, and James Neal.

2. Derek Grant, Anaheim Ducks. Sometimes you need an unlikely hero to step up and the Ducks got that on Saturday when Grant scored three goals for his first career hat trick in a 4-1 win over the St. Louis Blues. The win snapped what had been a nine-game point streak for the Blues, as well as a five-game losing streak for the Ducks. Entering Saturday Grant had scored just two goals on the season and only 18 in 228 career games.

3. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche. The absence of linemates Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog has not slowed down MacKinnon one bit. He took over on Saturday night with two goals — including the overtime winner — and an assist in a 5-4 win for the Avalanche. His overtime goal was a highlight reel tally that helped the Avalanche secure the two points after allowing a two-goal lead to disappear in the final three minutes of regulation. He is now up to 29 points in his first 20 games this season and has three three-point games over the past five. Rookie defenseman Cale Makar also deserves some attention for his four-point game.

Two big milestones

Stamkos scores 400th goal. It came in a losing effort, but Steven Stamkos scored the 400th goal of his career on Saturday. It is a great accomplishment for one of the best goal-scorers of this era, and it also produces a pretty big “what if” question — how many goals would he have today had he not missed so many games in his peak seasons to significant injuries and a lockout? The only active player to hit the 400 goal mark in fewer games than Stamkos is Alex Ovechkin.

Quenneville wins 900th regular season game. Thanks to the Florida Panthers’ 4-3 win over the New York Rangers, Joel Quenneville became only the second coach in NHL history to record 900 regular season wins. Scotty Bowman is the only other coach to hit that number.

Other notable performances from Saturday

  • The Pittsburgh Penguins extended the Toronto Maple Leafs’ losing streak to five games in a dominant win. Evgeni Malkin and Dominik Kahun were the offensive stars for the Penguins as they dominated a Maple Leafs team that continues to look completely lost. Read all about this game here.
  • The Dallas Stars received big contributions from Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn as they overcame a two-goal third period deficit to beat the Edmonton Oilers in overtime. Read about how Seguin and Benn were difference-makers here.
  • Arizona Coyotes goalie Darcy Kuemper stopped all 38 shots he faced for his second shutout of the season. He also nearly sparked a goalie fight by slamming Calgary Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk to the ice. Read all about that game right here.
  • The Chicago Blackhawks no doubt remembered Pekka Rinne talking about what an “easy” game he had the first time he faced them this season. His night on Saturday was even easier because he only made it through half the game before being benched in a 7-2 rout. Alex Nylander scored two goals for the Blackhawks in the win.
  • Evgenii Dadonov scored two goals for the Panthers in their 4-3 win over the Rangers.
  • Andrei Svechnikov continued his strong sophomore season with an overtime winner for the Carolina Hurricanes. He is now up to nine goals this season.
  • Big win for the Winnipeg Jets against the Tampa Bay Lightning to improve to 8-3-1 in their past 12 games and remain surprisingly competitive in the NHL’s Central Division.
  • Here come the Sharks. Their 4-3 shootout win over the Detroit Red Wings improved their winning streak to six games.

Highlights of the Night

The New York Islanders’ point streak hit 14 games on Saturday (13-0-1) thanks to an incredible rally that saw them overcome a 3-0 deficit against the Philadelphia Flyers. Mathew Barzal scored the shootout winner and it was an absolute beauty of a goal.

The best shootout goal of the night, though, belonged to Washington Capitals forward Jakub Vrana for this Datsyuk-ian dangle to beat Jaroslav Halak in the fifth round of the shootout against the Boston Bruins. The Capitals won to improve to 14-3-4 on the season. That is the best record in the NHL.

We told you MacKinnon’s overtime winner was incredible, and here it is.

Blooper of the Night

It probably has to be that bizarre disallowed goal in Montreal where Phillip Danault, capping off a chaotic scramble around the goal line. Read all about it here.

Factoids

  • Jonathan Huberdeau now has more assists than any player in Panthers history. [NHL PR]
  • Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are the third set of teammates in the past 30 years to have at least 40 points through their team’s first 22 games of the season. [NHL PR]
  • Los Angeles Kings forward Jeff Carter skated in his 1,000th career game on Saturday, making him the 11th player from the 2003 draft class to reach that milestone. The only other draft class with that many was the 1979 draft class. The Kings were 4-3 winners over the Vegas Golden Knights on Carter’s big day. [NHL PR]

Scores

Carolina Hurricanes 4, Minnesota Wild 3 (OT)
Los Angeles Kings 4, Vegas Golden Knights 3
Dallas Star 5, Edmonton Oilers 4 (OT)
Arizona Coyotes 3, Calgary Flames 0
Winnipeg Jets 4, Tampa Bay Lightning 3
Washington Capitals 3, Boston Bruins 2 (SO)
Buffalo Sabres 4, Ottawa Senators 2
New Jersey Devils 4, Montreal Canadiens 3 (OT)
Florida Panthers 4, New York Rangers 3
New York Islanders, Philadelphia 3 (SO)
Pittsburgh Penguins 6, Toronto Maple Leafs 1
Anaheim Ducks 4, St. Louis Blues 1
Chicago Blackhawks 7, Nashville Predators 2
Colorado Avalanche 5, Vancouver Canucks 4 (OT)
San Jose Sharks 4, Detroit Red Wings 3 (SO)

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Stunning numbers: Islanders’ 10-game winning streak edition

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During the 2019-20 NHL season we will take an occasional look at some stunning numbers from around the league. Today we take a look at some stunning numbers on the New York Islanders’ 10-game winning streak.

No one can stay ahead of them. Here is a weird one. During the current streak the Islanders have spent just 95 minutes trailing on the scoreboard, by far the lowest total in the NHL over that stretch (the next closest team is Boston, having spent 120 minutes playing from behind since Oct. 12). That is kind of what you might expect from a team that has won 10 games in a row, always playing with the lead. So what’s wild about that? They have given up the first goal in six of the 10 games, including their most recent win on Tuesday night against the Ottawa Senators. They have fallen behind early more often than not and then immediately erased the deficit before locking down the rest of the game.

Everybody is contributing to the offense. They have scored 34 goals during the 10 games, one of their best offensive stretches over the past two years, and it is a total team-wide contribution. They have received at least one goal from 15 different players, at least two goals from seven different players, and at least four goals from four different players (Mathew Barzal, Derick Brassard, Josh Bailey, and Anders Lee).

Nine different players have been credited with a game-winning goal.

They are not getting the benefit of any power play time. Almost all of that offense has been generated during 5-on-5 play with only three of those 34 goals coming on the power play. And it’s not necessarily because the power play has struggled. It’s because they are not getting any power plays. At all. They have been on the power play just 15 times over the past 10 games (for a total of 24 minutes) which is by far the lowest total in the league during that stretch.

The fewest power play opportunities per game since Oct. 12:

  • Florida Panthers: 2.6 per game
  • Tampa Bay Lightning: 2.6 per game
  • Anaheim Ducks: 2.6 per game
  • Edmonton Oilers: 2.5 per game
  • Pittsburgh Penguins: 2.3 per game
  • New York Islanders: 1.5 per game

The penalty kill has been nearly perfect. While they are not getting the benefit of many power plays, they have only been shorthanded 30 times, allowing just one goal and actually scoring a shorthanded goal. Their penalty kill goal differential is, quite literally, 0 over the past 10 games.

The goalies have been identical. How identical? Check out the numbers during the streak.

  • Thomas Greiss: Five games played, 154 shots against, 145 saves, .942 save percentage, 5-0-0 record
  • Semyon Varlamov: Five games played, 151 shots against, 143 saves, .947 save percentage, 5-0-0 record

You are going to win a lot of games when you get that from two different goalies.

About the shot attempts against. Islanders fans are probably sick of hearing this, but one of the biggest reasons people are always waiting for the bottom to fall out on this team is the simple fact they give up a lot of shot attempts and don’t generate a lot of their own. This is usually bad and there is plenty of evidence to back that up. Last year only two of the bottom-11 teams in the league in shot attempt differential made the playoffs. The year before only three of the bottom 12 teams made it. The year before that only two of the bottom-10 made it. Those teams generally don’t do well, and the ones that do always seem to think they are the ones that stumbled upon the key to “keeping pucks to the outside.” Then almost all of them regress the following year and end up missing the playoffs. The more time you spend defending, the more chances you give up, the more goals you give up. It’s not hard to figure that out.

The Islanders are doing it again, and especially during this streak.

Over the past 10 games they have been one of the league’s worst teams at allowing shot attempts, which seems bad. The thing is, they have been one of the rare teams that might actually be doing a good job of limiting chances. While they give up a lot of attempts, they don’t allow many to actually get to the net. They have also been one of the best teams at limiting high-danger chances over the past 10 games (only 9.38 per game, eighth lowest in the league).

(All data via Natural Stat Trick)

Winning streaks like this usually mean playoffs. And by usually, I mean every time with only two exceptions. The 2016-17 Philadelphia Flyers and 2018-19 Buffalo Sabres are the only teams in NHL history to have a winning streak of at least 10 games during a season and actually miss the playoffs. So you have to like that if you are an Islanders fan.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Lightning can’t stop Islanders, the NHL’s hottest team

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The New York Islanders are just about undeniably the hottest team in the NHL right now, so it’s fitting that they took care of business against the team that rampaged through the 2018-19 regular season.

The Islanders beat the Tampa Bay Lightning by a score of 5-2 on Friday night, extending the Isles’ 2019-20 season-best winning streak to a remarkable eight games. The Isles are already in spitting distance of last season’s best run, when the St. Louis Blues rattled off 11 consecutive wins.

If you look at certain raw stats, you might believe that the Islanders simply got lucky.

The Lightning managed a significant 35-26 shots on goal advantage, and also carried things from a Corsi/Fenwick/etc. perspective.

Yet, as you might deduce from this in-depth look at the Islanders’ streak when it was seven-games long last weekend, things seem to be going by Barry Trotz’s design. Consider that, while the Islanders didn’t own all of the possession metrics against the Lightning, the Isles did manage a substantial 9-5 edge in high-danger chances at five-on-five, according to Natural Stat Trick.

The Islanders also employ Mathew Barzal, who can do things like this on his way to scoring a goal and an assist against the Bolts:

This Islanders team isn’t just relying on Barzal, mind you, as lead-by-example captain Anders Lee led the team in scoring with three points on a goal and two assists.

While Trotz’s system will earn deserved plaudits, Thomas Greiss‘ continued brilliance shouldn’t be lost in the shuffle. He’s now on a personal four-game winning streak after stopping 33 out of 35 Lightning shots, and the 33-year-old has allowed only eight goals total during that span. Greiss was almost as fantastic as Robin Lehner last season, sporting a .927 save percentage over 43 games. So far, he’s off to an even better start.

There’s a broken record aspect to this, but you have to think that, at some point, the Islanders won’t continue to enjoy this borderline interstellar goaltending on such a regular basis, even behind Trotz’s comfy-blanket system. Then again, the longer this goes on, the harder it gets to make that argument.

If nothing else, the Islanders are providing themselves some room to slip ever so slightly. Yes, we saw the Buffalo Sabres squander a big winning streak last season by missing the playoffs – badly – so it’s important to remember that this is a marathon, rather than a sprint. That said, many other NHL teams are eating the Islanders’ dust, and with a four-game homestand looming after the Islanders visit the Sabres in Buffalo on Saturday, the Isles might get off to an even bigger head start through the middle of the month.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.