More than just a victory over the Rangers at Madison Square Garden, the New York Islanders showcased a plethora of “firsts” in the contest.The New York Islanders and Rangers have always showcased unpredictable and sometimes hectic games. The Thursday night Islanders victory at Madison Square Garden was nothing different.
What’s more, from an Isles perspective, is a number of firsts for the season occurred for the Islanders and it may pose a breakout for the near future.
For starters, the power play finally converted. Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock took a shot from the point that landed in front and forward Anders Lee tapped it past Henrik Lundqvist. The tally from Lee in the first period makes that his third of the year and puts the team at 30th in the NHL with a 4.3% conversion rate (1-for-23 overall).
While disappointing, the power play at long last showed signs of life. If Pulock and his 105 m.p.h. slap-shot is a kick-start for the special teams unit, it is certainly better late than never.
In the second period, Islanders rookie Mathew Barzal scored his first NHL goal on a beautiful shot cutting in from the wing against Lundqvist. The move showed off Barzal’s surprising strength as he was able to skate by and shake off the Rangers speedy power forward, Rick Nash.
Barzal has been receiving a fair amount of minutes for someone who has mostly been trying to skate through opposing players. Because of that, it’s nice to see him finally convert. He is also the Islanders first selection (no. 16 overall) of the NHL Draft in 2015 (thank you Peter Chiarelli) so fans have been waiting for him.
Barzal is currently on pace for 23 points for his first season with his point per game ratio at 0.28 (two points in seven games). What that stat does not account for is confidence, training and growth via experience. Barzal isn’t expected to break 100 points like Connor McDavid or Sidney Crosby did in their first full seasons. However, if his first goal can get him the confidence he needs to be on track for 40 or 50 points while contributing on the power play, that would be a very respectable rookie campaign.
The Islanders had a two-goal lead going into the third period on their cross-town rival but burrowed in the defensive zone and watched the Rangers tie the game. Overtime was strenuous for both clubs and featured an Islanders power play that was itching to break through with Pulock and his slap shot at the point and side of the net.
However, this one would need shootout where the last breakthrough came.
Not only did the Isles get their first shootout victory of the season, Jordan Eberle scored his first goal an Islander. While the shootout tally will not count towards the season total, I’m sure it is a sigh of relief for Eberle that he can find the back of the net in any way possible. He has not been completely invisible since his arrival to Brooklyn. The top-line winger has four assists in the seven games he has played so far.
Eberle has hit 20 goals or more in five out of seven full seasons with Edmonton and should not have a problem hitting that same mark if not higher on a line with John Tavares, one of the most creative centers in the game. Therefore, this slower start should not be worrying Islanders fans. Once the goals start coming in for Eberle, the opposing team won’t be able to stop them.
All of these factors are major components to the Islanders potential success this year. In a division where they are battling Presidents’ Trophy contending squads with world-class athletes, they’ll need everything to work in their favor. Whether that be the power play converting, the rookies chipping in or the new arrival making his presence known, the Islanders needed that and they got it.
Hopefully for Islanders fans, this rivalry game with a few firsts was a sign of bigger things to come.