The Islanders have starred in this song and dance before of folding when holding a lead.
Up 1-0 thanks to Mathew Barzal after the first period against the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Monday night, they yielded the tying goal via All-Star Mitch Marner just 50 seconds into the second period.
Seconds after killing off a penalty and just two minutes after Toronto’s equalizer though, Kyle MacLean hopped out of the box and was sprung on a breakaway where he dipsy-doodled around Ilya Samsanov to put the Islanders back in front just two minutes later.
New York proceeded to hold off the high-powered Maple Leafs for the next 32 minutes but an issue that has plagued them all season reared its ugly head into the picture once again. Former Islanders captain John Tavares tipped a Morgan Rielly shot past Ilya Sorokin with 4:48 left in regulation to tie it.
This was normally part of the program when Lane Lambert’s Islanders would fall apart. They lost six games this season when leading after two periods — only the Columbus Blue Jackets have more.
But Lane Lambert is no longer in charge. This is Patrick Roy’s show now and his Islanders are rife with something they hadn’t had until late January.
Rather than being the team to yield another quick strike, it was the Islanders who came up with the winning tally when Pierre Engvall, against his old team, slid a backhander off a Samsonov rebound through the Toronto goalie’s legs just 2:46 after Tavares’ equalizer and with 2:02 remaining in the game. New York won 3-2 to start the post-All-Star-break schedule on the right foot.
“What I love the most is they scored that power-play goal to tie the game and our mindset was ‘let’s go get the next one.’ That pleased me a lot,” Roy said (h/t Islanders’ official site). “To see our guys stay in the present moment and be able to not change our game because we gave up a goal… I was very pleased.
“The guys have been buying into what we’re doing and are being rewarded… That means a lot to us.”
Roy’s arrival on Jan. 20 after the firing of Lambert has sent a shock through the Islanders’ system where they’re beginning to adopt a style of hockey unseen around these parts for more than half a decade.
Players are being trusted to express themselves more through their play — relying on their skill to amp up offensive pressure rather than to sit back in a more defensive shell to invite wave after wave of the opposition’s attack. The byproduct of that philosophical shift is a roster that believes it can go back to winning close games or keeping up with the league’s top teams — or get firmly back into the playoff picture.
“I think so [there’s more belief],” star center Bo Horvat told amNewYork before the All-Star break. “I think we’re a little more aggressive. We don’t sit back as much which is great for us. Playing our toes helps this team.”
Tuesday night’s win moves the Islanders just two points behind the Philadelphia Flyers for third place and a non-Wild-Card playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division. They’re now 2-2-1 under Roy with two of those losses coming by one goal each against the defending Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights and the defending Eastern Conference champion Florida Panthers.
“When you leave a game feeling good about the effort you put in, the way you play it as a group, it can trickle down to the next day where we come in feeling good,” defenseman Noah Dobson said. “I think the main thing is finding that level of being even-keel and finding that line where it doesn’t matter the results. It’s business as usual and you get ready for the next game whether after a tough loss or a big win.”