The pregame stroll down memory lane with former teammate and current Chicago Blackhawks net-minder Robin Lehner was bittersweet, but after Thomas Greiss gave up three goals in the span of 4:22, Coach Barry Trotz and the New York Islanders could no longer afford to exchange playful words or a chuckle after a stopped puck with their friend. An early and old-fashioned “snowing the goalie” seemed to snap Lehner out of a joking mode, too.
Though before the game and surely afterwards, it is all love from the Masterton and Jennings Trophy winner one year removed from Long Island.
Coming off three losses in four games, Trotz’s four-line roll-‘em-out style of play looked to be breaking down, indicating the holiday break was coming at the right time. What fans and Trotz alike were waiting for was how the team would respond after the slump and with time to recharge.
Of course, by now we all now how young forward Anthony Beauvillier, in his break-out season, got some attention on Twitter.
The Islanders took an early one goal lead after a deflected pass found Josh Bailey’s stick, who slid the puck across the gliding Lehner to Ross Johnston, who only had to tap it into the open net to open the scoring.
Blackhawks defenseman and former Notre Dame star Dennis Gilbert answered less than two minutes later, scoring his first career NHL goal, and was assisted by forward Dylan Strome and defenseman Duncan Keith.
Then, 2:12 later, an off-speed shot by forward Dominik Kubalik beat Thomas Greiss. After the third puck passed by, and “Chelsea Dagger” bounced around the United Center once again, goaltender Semyon Varlamov (signed as Lehner’s replacement) was given the nod by Trotz to replace Greiss.
Two unsuccessful power play attempts in the second held the Islanders from drawing closer and the score remained 3-1 going into the third period.
Lehner, by the end of the second period, turned aside 29 saves on 30 shots against his former team.
Captain Jonathan Toews extended the Blackhawks’ lead 50 seconds into the third, and Matthew Highmore scored his third career goal (and first of the year) 2:13 later, pushing it out of reach at 5-1 before the Islanders had much of a chance to push for a comeback.
In the Trotz and Lou Lamoriello era, this has been one of the tougher 10-game stretches the team has endured. Frustration boiled over for (ex-enforcer) Matt Martin as he hastily dropped the gloves—met to no contest—for the first time this season and picked up his first penalty minutes of the year, tacked with an extra 10 and a game misconduct.
Soon after, perhaps at least good enough as a consolation prize, fourth line forward Casey Cizikas beat Lehner for the last goal of the game; the Isles dropped the contest 5-2 and their record moves to 23-10-3 (49 points).
Still, partially boosted by the 17-game streak, the team has a hold on 2nd in Metropolitan Division with two games at hand on the trailing Pittsburgh Penguins (48 points).
After the game, Trotz voiced his displeasure with the performances of late, but remained calm in his tone and asserted the need to trust the system built around work ethic.
“Let’s get back to work… Right now there is a lot of cheat in our game, a lot of swing, and we’ll get that out. This is a group that has a lot of good leadership in there and they’ll have to figure it out for themselves. It’s hard to be hungry when you’re full and we’ve been full for a little bit,” Trotz said to MSG’s Shannon Hogan after the game.
Next, the Islanders will head up to Minnesota to take on the Wild, who sit 5th in Central Division, on December 29. Puck drop is set for shortly after 6:00 p.m.