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The New York Islanders finished off 2023 with a loss, falling 3-1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins last night.
With Casey Cizikas returning to the lineup, the somewhat odd decision was made to scratch Pierre Engvall and keep Matt Martin in the lineup. As a result, Hudson Fasching moved up to the second line, taking Engvall’s place. Meanwhile, Scott Mayfield made his return on the blue line in place of Robert Bortuzzo, playing with Samuel Bolduc.
Early in the first period (following a fight between Matt Martin and John Ludvig), Casey Cizikas wasn't able to capitalize on a breakaway, and Pittsburgh ended up going right back down ice to open the scoring, with Lars Eller burying a cross-crease pass from Jansen Harkins. Despite falling behind, the Islanders kept pressing, getting the better of the chances in the first period, including a power play where Alex Nedeljkovic had to make a series of huge saves around the net to prevent New York from tying it. While the Islanders ended up under siege on a late Penguins’ power play, they managed to get to intermission without giving up another goal, and overall, there was a lot to like about the Islanders’ first period.
Pittsburgh managed to extend the lead early in the second period though, with Drew O’Connor’s pass being tipped in by Noel Acciari. The teams traded power play chances as the frame went on but neither team could capitalize, and despite New York looking pretty good for the most part at even strength, they remained down 2-0 through 40 minutes.
The Islanders did finally get on the board in the back half of the third period, as Samuel Bolduc got to a loose puck and beat Nedeljkovic with a well-placed shot, to cut the lead in half. While New York pressed afterwards though, Lars Eller buried an empty netter in the final minute to put the game out of reach, as the Islanders fell 3-1.
It’s a disappointing result following the strong showing against Washington, but overall, it was a pretty solid outing for New York. They had their chances throughout the night, firing 38 shots on goal (which is only the fourth time this season they’ve managed that many shots in a game), but just ran up against a goalie playing very well.
The top line was buzzing, outshooting opponents 15-7 while on the ice together at 5-on-5 (according to NaturalStatTrick.com), while the reunited identity line also had a positive impact. That said, the Holmstrom-Pageau-Gauthier line was a little quiet, coming off such a strong showing against the Capitals.
Scott Mayfield also looked pretty good in his return to the lineup, alongside Samuel Bolduc. He didn’t take on huge minutes (with Noah Dobson still counted on to carry most of the load), but getting Mayfield back on the right side is a big boost, nevertheless.
On the decision to scratch Pierre Engvall: the winger is clearly slumping, going pointless in his last 10 games. However, keeping Matt Martin in the lineup and shifting Hudson Fasching into a bigger role seems like an unrealistic path to generating more offense. Hopefully, Engvall is right back in next game.
So while it’s unfortunate the Islanders couldn’t cap off 2023 with a better result, it still marks two pretty solid performances in a row, quieting any concerns that were raised in the blowout loss only less than a week ago. The Islanders remain tied for fifth place in the East in points percentage, heading into a series of three Western Conference road games.
They’ll be back in action for their first game of 2024 tomorrow night against the Colorado Avalanche.