The Islanders staked Ilya Sorokin to a five-goal, first-period lead and matched their season-high for goals. But they still needed their goalie’s brilliance to steer clear of a second straight brutal defeat.
Instead, the Islanders ultimately held off the Canucks’ surge through the second period and most of the third to open a four-game road trip with a 6-3 win on Wednesday night at Rogers Arena in Vancouver.
Sorokin made 34 saves, stopping the last 17 shots he faced, as the Islanders (17-17-6) moved within 15 points of the Eastern Conference’s final wild-card spot. He made 16 saves in the third period.
The Islanders went into the All-Star break with a no-show 3-0 loss to the expansion Seattle Kraken at UBS Arena on Feb. 2, a loss that an angry Barry Trotz called perhaps his most disappointing as the team’s coach.
“We just kind of reflected on where we are as a group and where we want to be,” defenseman Noah Dobson said.
The Islanders’ fast start – their three goals in 31 seconds in the first period was the second-fastest trio of goals in team history – seemed to indicate Trotz wasn’t the only one annoyed.
“We haven’t played to expectations,” Trotz said. “That’s collectively and individually. All we can do is go forward here and see if we can get this process going. Just play to our potential. We haven’t done that enough. We’ve been very inconsistent.”The Islanders continue the trip on Friday night at Edmonton.
Trotz significantly shook up three of his four lines with Kyle Palmieri missing the game after his wife gave birth to their first child. Fourth-liner Cal Clutterbuck was elevated to top-line center Mathew Barzal’s right wing. Burly Ross Johnston was put on second-line center Brock Nelson’s left wing. And Anthony Beauvillier, Nelson’s usual linemate, took Clutterbuck’s spot with Casey Cizikas and Matt Martin. Only Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s line with Zach Parise and Oliver Wahlstrom remained intact.
The Islanders notched five goals in a first period for the first time since 1996, chasing ex-Islander Jaroslav Halak after he gave up the quintet on 12 shots in 16:19 with little defensive support from his teammates.
Halak denied Martin on a two-on-none with Pageau before the Islanders’ goal deluge began. But Parise, playing in his 1,100th game, opened the scoring off Dobson’s feed to the crease at 3:25 of the first period.
Nelson deflected All-Star defenseman Adam Pelech’s blue-line shot to make it 2-0 at 3:43. Defenseman Ryan Pulock’s shot from the right point went in off Lee’s skate at 3:56.
Beauvillier set up Cizikas at the crease for a 4-0 lead at 13:11 as each line contributed a goal. Barzal, from nearby Coquitlam, British Columbia and with his parents and family in attendance, then ended Halak’s night, lifting the puck off Lee’s feed on the rush at 16:19.
Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, shooting through Nils Hoglander’s screen, cut it to 5-1 at 18:56.
The Canucks then added two more goals in a lopsided second period. Elias Pettersson skated out of the right corner, around Pulock and slid the puck past Sorokin’s right pad to make it 5-2 at 13:04. Defenseman Luke Schenn, who tried to spark the Canucks by fighting Johnston 10 seconds after Parise’s opening goal, made it 5-3 at 14:35 on a shot that deflected off of Cizikas.
All-Star goalie Thatcher Demko stopped the first 14 shots he faced after relieving Halak, including denying Pageau on a two-on-none shorthanded rush with Parise with the Canucks still down 5-1.
But Cizikas fed Martin for a 6-3 lead at 14:19 of the third period to finally get some breathing room.