New York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz has had to shuffle his lines since the acquisitions of Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac to find the right distribution of firepower — and it looks like he found a sizable fit with Josh Bailey, Anthony Beauvillier, and Jean-Gabriel Pageau on a line together.
The trio combined for four goals and five assists on the night in a 6-1 victory over the New York Rangers at Nassau Coliseum on Tuesday night, good to move the Islanders back into a tie for first place in the Eastern Division.
Beauvillier led the way with a goal and three assists while Bailey added two goals — his first multi-goal game of the season and a strong performance after a couple of games on the injured list — and an assist and Pageau tallied a tally and a helper himself.
“They’re two easy guys to play with so it was fun out there,” Bailey said. “We were able to create and get some looks.”
“It’s just one of those nights where everything seems to go in and you just have to enjoy them and move forward afterward,” Beauvillier said as he broke a scoring slump. “It’s nice, especially when you’ve been struggling a little bit.”
All the while, Semyon Varlamov outclassed Rangers rookie Igor Shesterkin in goal, continuing his dominance over the Blueshirts this season with a 19-save performance.
The Islanders struck first with 2:18 to go in the first period after a rush from Beauvillier sparked the host’s transition game.
After an initial move toward goal was broken up between the dots, Pageau weaved his way through a disorganized Rangers defense on Shesterkin’s blocker side before backhanding a pass to Bailey, who managed to one-time a point-blank finish with a defender on his back.
“It’s big to have him [Bailey] back on the ice and the locker room,” Pageau said. “To play with him, we were very lucky tonight. Beau was everywhere on the ice tonight. He was moving his feet, winning all his battles.”
Brock Nelson, who missed potting one of the goals of the season as the first period expired when he dipsey-doodled through Ryan Lindgren before slinging a wrister off the crossbar, doubled the Islanders’ lead 1:38 into the second period when he redirected a Nick Leddy pass from the left circle over Shesterkin for his team-leading 16th goal of the season.
It was a just reward for Nelson on a night he skated in his 594th game, drawing him level with Islanders-great John Tonelli.
Four minutes later, it was three for the hosts, which came on the power play after a shot from Noah Dobson was deflected cross-ice right to Beauvillier. He made no mistake burying it with a wide-open net for just the Islanders’ second power-play goal in the last nine games.
“It’s definitely good for his confidence,” Pageau said. “I thought tonight, his defensive play is what created those offensive chances after. I thought we were able to break the puck easily and get to the o-zone and create some offense there.
The Rangers pulled one back with 8:56 remaining in the second when a Brendan Smith floater from just above the dots found a way through Varlamov as he was screened by traffic in front.
With that momentum, the Rangers seized control in the second half of the second period, but Varlamov made a series of key stops to keep the Islanders’ advantage at two after two.
“It was huge,” Trotz said of Varlamov’s performance. “You need a big save at a key time and I don’t think Varly was overly taxed by any stretch of the imagination. But when we needed a big save also a timely save, he did.”
Pageau picked up his second point of the night and restored the Islanders’ three-goal lead with 12:16 remaining when he sniped a one-timer over Shesterkin off a feed from behind the net by Beauvillier.
“That line was good tonight,” Trotz said. “All three of those guys were obviously good… Everyone knows Bailey is a really smart, cerebral player. They were working. When Bailey has the balance between the cerebral and blue-collar game, he gets a lot done.
“With Pager and Beau, they have some speed and tenacity, and intelligence and they were able to capitalize tonight.”
It was quickly followed up by Bailey’s second of the night and Jordan Eberle, who scored 1:06 of each other less than five minutes after Pageau’s goal.
The emphatic statement demoralized a Rangers team that had won four straight against the New Jersey Devils, thus making a push for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Division.
“The Rangers have been playing pretty well and had been climbing up the standings,” Bailey said. “We wanted to push them down.”