Eberle, Islanders offense wakes up in 4-1 win over Devils

NHL: New Jersey Devils at New York Islanders
Jan 21, 2021; Uniondale, New York, USA; New York Islanders center Mathew Barzal (13) celebrates his goal in front of New Jersey Devils left wing Nikita Gusev (97) during the first period at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

After scoring just one goal over their previous two games, the New York Islanders found their scoring touch, defeating the New Jersey Devils 4-1 on Thursday night for a second-straight win.

Jordan Eberle picked up his first two goals of the season while his first-linemate, Mathew Barzal, added a goal and three points in the duo’s most aggressive outing to date, combining for nine shots on the night.

“You want to get off to a good start,” Eberle said. “You put the puck in once and you start to feel it especially when you get into Game 3, 4, 5. You want to contribute.

“We created a few chances… we just haven’t capitalized. It was nice to finish off a few today.”

All the while, Semyon Varlamov continued his sterling play in goal, saving 28 of 29 shots although his shutout streak to start the season ended after an impressive seven periods. He’s now stopped 81 of 82 shots faced this season.

The Islanders’ veteran netminder’s opposite number in the crease was Scott Wedgewood, a career minor-leaguer making his first NHL appearance in three years after Devils No. 1 goalie McKenzie Blackwood was placed on the COVID list. He was certainly busy in his return to the pros but performed admirably with 31 saves.

The Islanders had the lead on their second shot of the game, Barzal sniping a wrist shot from the right circle into the top-left corner of Wedgewood’s net — a harsh introduction for the Devils backstop just 4:43 into the game.

It was an aggressive start from the normally passive playmaker. Barzal had just five shots in his first three games of the season but posted four in the first 20 minutes of Thursday night’s tilt.

“I’m always trying to grow my game, I guess, but obviously, the last couple of years have been pass-first and whatnot,” he said. “For me, it’s trying to be more assertive when I get to a situation that’s pass or shoot.”

“As I said to him, with his skill set and the way he gets into areas and the way he can shoot the puck — and it doesn’t have to be in the perfect spot — he could be a 30-to-40-goal scorer with that mentality,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said.

After the Devils put the first two shots of the night on the board, the Islanders put 11-straight shots on Wedgewood’s goal on their way to a 15-shot period, just two fewer than they had all of Monday in a 1-0 win over the Bruins.

Eberle doubled the Islanders’ lead on that 15th shot of the period, niftily beating Wedgewood on a breakaway with a deke to the backhand with 20.9 seconds remaining in the frame.

“Getting that late goal was good,” Trotz said. “I thought we had enough chances, enough zone time that we should’ve been getting that second goal.”

The Devils punched back just 2:10 into the second period to get on the board and end Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov’s shutout streak to start the season at 142:10 after sneaking an unassuming-looking wrister into the back of the net.

Off that momentum, the Devils outshot a complacent-looking Islanders 13-9 in the second period, but couldn’t beat Varlamov again.

After Scott Mayfield and Anthony Beauvillier hit posts in the first minute of the third period, Eberle picked up his second and put the Islanders back up two just 1:56 into the period.

On the power play, a shot from Noah Dobson went wide and the subsequent carom off the backboards came right to Eberle to the right of Wedgewood’s goal, which he was able to finish with a one-timer.

Dobson’s missed shot proved to be his second assist of the night for the first multi-point game of his young career.

“He’s been putting some extra time in and work on the power play as well as five-on-five and I think the more he plays, the more comfortable he gets, the more confidence he gets, and the better that is for us,” Trotz said of Dobson. 

Just 2:20 later, again on the power play, the Islanders went up three when Brock Nelson — who left the game at the end of the second after an awkward fall into PK Subban cut open his forehead — tipped a Nick Leddy shot out of mid-air around Wedgewood.

The sudden burst of affluence on the man-advantage changed the narrative around a power-play unit that had gone 0-for-its-last-10 before the third period.