When 28-year-old Michael Houser made 34 saves and helped the Buffalo Sabres defeat the Islanders 4-2 on Monday, it was a nice little story about an ECHL goaltender starting and winning his first professional game since March 7, 2020 with Cincinnati of the ECHL.
Islanders coach Barry Trotz was not amused, even though his team had clinched a playoff spot on Saturday.
“I thought we played with a little bit of arrogance,” Trotz said after Monday’s game.
Most saves in Michael Houser's professional career:
49 – ECHL, Cincinnati versus Greenville, April 7, 2017
46 – ECHL, Fort Wayne versus Tulsa, Nov. 19, 2017
45 – NHL, Buffalo versus New York Islanders, May 4, 2021
— John Vogl (@BuffaloVogl) May 5, 2021
Fast forward to Tuesday night, and Houser was back in goal again. This time, the Islanders came at Buffalo in waves as if they wanted to destroy this Cinderella story. They outshot the Sabres 48-31, including 21-9 in the opening period. The 48 shots were a season high.
At the time, it looked as if the Islanders were going to fire 60 shots at Houser. But although the Islanders came out hot and took a 3-1 lead, the pesky Sabres hung around and won 4-3 in a shootout.
Mathew Barzal Scratched
The Islanders, who once led the East Division, are now in fourth place, one point behind the Boston Bruins.
“It was better,” Trotz said about Tuesday’s effort. “I liked that we were playing north, we weren’t messing around. I thought in the second period, we didn’t recognize danger. We had three guys really tired. Their two guys came off fresh, and then we just mismanage the puck and I think they ended up with about five chances and a goal. That can’t happen.”
We’ve seen this story play out before. A bottom-place team playing the spoiler.
Things we love to see:
⚪️ Short-handed goals
⚪️ Breakaway goals
⚪️ Toy-department Goals
🔘 ALL OF THE ABOVE pic.twitter.com/ZOmNIoGERX
— x – New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) May 5, 2021
“That’s kind of the strength of our team,” Pulock said. “When we do get up, we’re able to lock things down. Obviously, we failed at that these last two games. We’ll look at it, we’ll clean that up and we’ll be ready.”
The Islanders didn’t have elite center Mathew Barzal, who was scratched for the first time in his NHL career. He had played 284 consecutive games, dating to the start of the 2017-18 season. It’s not often you see the team’s leading scorer benched for a game heading into the playoffs.
But Barzal hasn’t been effective against the Sabres all season, with only one goal in seven games, so perhaps the night off wasn’t such a bad thing.
“I just want to get him in the right place and feeling good so that he’s a good player for us in the playoffs here,” Trotz said.
The Islanders had also scratched Matt Martin and Leo Komarov for Tuesday’s game, so clearly the Islanders could be accused of shooting themselves in the foot by altering the chemistry of their lineup.
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Beauvillier Continues To Shine
But there are still good signs for the Islanders, and one of them is Anthony Beauvillier, who had one goal and seven shots on net. He now has six points, including five goals, in his last six games. But he’s a streaky player, so the Islanders hope he can continue his roll into the playoffs.
But there are some players who are not carrying their weight.
Travis Zajac the top-line center who was acquired with Kyle Palmieri at the trade deadline from New Jersey, had two shots and one giveaway in 18:08 of ice time. And defensemen Andy Greene and his partner Noah Dobson struggled all game.
— x – Isles on MSG+ (@IslesMSGN) May 4, 2021
There are always ups and downs during a season, and the Islanders are certainly in a down time. Not exactly the right time to go through a lull with the playoffs around the corner.
The Islanders are a mediocre 4-4-2 in their last two, including two straight losses. Meanwhile, the teams ahead of them are streaking.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are 7-3-0 in their last 10, while the Washington Capitals are 6-3-1 and the Boston Bruins are 7-2-1.
Cold On The Road
A worrisome sign is how the Islanders play on the road, where they are 11-13-3, which is the worst road record of the top four teams in the East. In fact, their 11 road wins are the second lowest in the division (tied with New Jersey) next to the Sabres, who have seven.
It’s only the Islanders’ stunning home record (20-3-3) that has papered how bad they are on the road. With only 25 points collected on the road so far and only one road game remaining in the regular season, the Islanders rank No. 20 in the league in win percentage.
It gets worse than that when you factor in goals scored. The Islanders have scored only 54 goals on the road, which ranks No. 28 in that category. Only the Vancouver Canucks, Detroit Red Wings, and Columbus Blue Jackets have fewer, and none of them are going to the playoffs.
Unless the Islanders figure out how to bring their best on the road, it’s hard to see Trotz’s crew going as deep as they went last season, advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals.
As of now, it appears the Islanders will start the playoffs on the road against either Pittsburgh or Washington. The Islanders are 0-4 in Pittsburgh this season and 0-4 on the road against Washington.
The Islanders have two games at home against the Devils on Thursday and Saturday before concluding the regular season on Monday in Boston.