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Islanders stay hot, spoil Sabres’ return from COVID-19 postponements

Anders Lee, Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Brock Nelson score while Semyon Varlamov makes 20 saves to backstop New York to a 3-1 victory over Buffalo that moves the Islanders to third in the East.

After recently beating the Bruins, Barry Trotz raved about it being the sort of win the Islanders strive to carve out in the playoffs. The Islanders’ 3-1 win on Monday felt that way too, although it also probably showed how far the Sabres need to come to finally break their playoff drought.

The Islanders now have points in seven straight games (4-0-3), improving to 7-4-3 overall. During the last five games, they’ve stacked up four wins.

As stingy as the Islanders can be, losing like this had to be pretty demoralizing for the (now 4-5-2) Sabres. Heading into an aggravating COVID delay, the Sabres had been building up steam with wins in four of their last six. They have to hope this was a matter of rust, and will get a chance to prove that much as the Islanders and Sabres turn around for another game on Tuesday.

Semyon Varlamov, Islanders combine for stingy win vs. Sabres

When it comes to the Isles and their goalies, people often fall into chicken-and-the-egg arguments.

Has Semyon Varlamov/Robin Lehner/Thomas Greiss really been that good under Barry Trotz, or was it all about the system? Of course, the truth is that it’s usually been a mixture; the more interesting debates probably boil down to assigning percentages to the goalies vs. the nurturing atmosphere.

To some extent, the Islanders’ philosophy about defense has probably helped Varlamov. But Varlamov’s earning his portion of the credit. After all, saves like this one on Victor Olofsson come down to a goalie being keyed-in.

Consider the gap between Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin heading into Monday’s Sabres - Islanders game:


Now, that’s a small sample size. But it’s another way to illustrate that Varlamov’s off to a hot start. Via Hockey Reference, the Islanders have been on the wrong end -- sometimes significantly -- when it comes to the share of scoring chances, including high-danger ones. Varlamov’s been able to keep them in games nonetheless.

So, imagine if the Islanders can clog things up. That certainly was the case on Monday. For the first time since 2011, the Sabres were held without a shot on goal during a period. That happened in the third, when the Islanders were nursing a 3-1 lead.

Other hot streaks continue

While Mathew Barzal continues to be a key catalyst, the Isles are receiving contributions from a variety of scorers. In Barzal’s case, he pushed his point streak to a career-best with nine on Monday.

Jean-Gabriel Pageau has been especially hot lately. Pageau extended his goal streak to three games (4G) with a tally on Monday. The Islanders had to be pleased to receive contributions from Brock Nelson and Anders Lee, as well.

Most of the news is bad for the Sabres. Going without a shot during a period where you’re trailing has to sting. Rust or not, and as hot as the Islanders have been lately, you’d think a fresh Sabres team would be able to get more done as this game went along.

Instead, they could really only do damage on the power play.

That’s where Olofsson scored after being robbed by Varlamov earlier in the game. His power-play tally extended a career-best point streak to seven games. The 25-year-old’s scored at least one point in all but two games so far this season.

Jack Eichel and Taylor Hall both failed to generate a goal or an assist in this one, combining for three SOG while each player logged more than 20 minutes. That’s disappointing stuff, and it’s fair to wonder how much longer that partnership might last.

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