Jean-Gabriel Pageau notched his third game-winning goal of the season, a power-play tally with 4:52 left in regulation to lift the Islanders to a 3-2 triumph over the Buffalo Sabres on Monday night at Nassau Coliseum.
The always-adapting third-line center’s seventh goal of the season guaranteed two points for an Islanders team entering Monday on a two-game losing streak before being largely outplayed by the Sabres, slotting home a rebound that came off a wrister from rookie winger Oliver Wahlstrom.
“[Wahlstrom] has a great shot… He was just trying to put it on net and I was able to get the rebound,” Pageau said. “Things are bouncing my way right now so I have to keep going in the same direction.”
The Islanders were outshot 35-23 on the night, though they remained in contention thanks to goaltender Semyon Varlamov, who continues his sterling season with 33 saves in the win.
“I thought Varly was huge tonight for us. Made some huge saves off their power play, made some huge saves toward the end.” head coach Barry Trotz said. “Probably wasn’t our best game, but I know Buffalo is a good hockey team with lots of fire power. I felt tonight, the hockey gods were in our favor.”
In one of their worst periods of the year, the Islanders were outworked by the Sabres, getting outshot 12-3 while conceding the game’s opening goal to Curtis Lazar with 2:45 left in the frame.
Buffalo’s opener came off a turnover from Scott Mayfield, who committed a penalty earlier in the period and continues to fall under the microscope alongside second-pairing blueliner, Nick Leddy.
“The way the game was going, we were creating some chances but nothing was getting on net,” Islanders captain Anders Lee said. “We felt the frustration pick up a little bit. When that happens, you have to find a way to stay positive.”
The Islanders’ offense didn’t generate much well into the second period, getting just two shots in the first 12 minutes of action. However, Lee managed to draw them level with one of those attempts after Jordan Eberle managed to slide a loose puck to the winger, who put on a pair of moves to get the puck to his backhand and slide it through Linus Ullmark 3:56 into the frame.
A late offensive barrage saw the Islanders throw six pucks on Ullmark’s net in the final seven minutes of the second, but none would find paydirt including an Anthony Beauvillier one-timer and point-blank and a Pageau breakaway.
“It was deceptive because I know we were putting pucks to the net,” Trotz said. “After the second period, I think it was 33-33 in attempted shots during the game so it didn’t feel that way but when you look up at the board and you see five shots, it doesn’t look great. You have to hit the net a little bit.”
Matt Martin put the Islanders in front with the team’s first shot of the third period, wheeling around in the right circle before sniping a wrister under the arm of Ullmark at the 3:01 mark for his second goal of the season.
The lead wouldn’t even last three minutes as the Sabres took advantage of a Lee interference penalty; Sam Reinhart brilliantly batting the equalizer out of mid-air with a rotating backhand just beneath the crossbar with 14:12 to go in regulation.
With 6:35 to go, Mathew Barzal was hauled down by Riley Sheahan in the neutral zone to put the Islanders on the man-advantage, where Pageau provided the game-winner.
“I think that was a big part of it was getting pucks to the net,” Trotz said of the game-winning power play. “That power play is getting pucks to the net, keeping it pretty simple and getting second looks. We had [Brock Nelson] and [Pageau] at the net and were able to get a huge goal there, especially against Buffalo.”