Where were these Islanders last month?
As bad as January was for the Islanders, February so far looks like the reverse in every way. After beating the Kraken 4-0 at UBS Arena on Tuesday, the Isles (27-22-5) have won their first two games back from the All-Star break to extend their winning streak to four games. And this one was just about perfect.
In Bo Horvat’s home debut, the Islanders looked like the sort of team they envisioned themselves to be when they traded for him. After a sluggish start on the second end of a back-to-back, Samuel Bolduc got them on the board first and the Islanders never looked back.
The moment of the night came 5:08 into the second, with the Islanders already up 3-0. That was when Horvat took a feed from Mathew Barzal and buried into the top shelf of the Kraken net for his first goal as an Islander and career-high 32nd of the season. At UBS Arena, the party was on.
Chants of “HOR-VAT” came down as the center’s teammates met him by the bench. There would be no extended wait to see him score in an Islanders uniform, or to see his impact on the team. It was painted all over the ice — really all over the building, which was dotted with No. 14 jerseys.
This was the first time the Islanders had scored over three goals in a game since Jan. 16 against the Capitals, and the first time they scored four since Jan. 3 against the Canucks. It was a dominant effort, with Ilya Sorokin only being forced into 30 saves for his fifth shutout of the season and the Islanders suddenly able to transport the puck up the ice with an ease they lacked for the entirety of January.
If this is what the Islanders are going to look like with Horvat in their lineup, then watch out.
Bolduc’s goal, at 7:59 of the first, came relatively out of nowhere on an innocent-looking point shot that made its way through traffic and past Martin Jones. From there, it was an onslaught for the rest of the period, culminating in Simon Holmstrom going top shelf to double the lead at 18:29.
Zach Parise followed that by tipping in Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s shot 3:38 into the second, and then less than two minutes later came Horvat’s goal and the fan salute of their newest star.
All told, this was maybe the best the Islanders have played all season — and almost without a doubt their best performance since a pair of blowouts against the bottom-feeding Ducks and Sharks all the way back in the second and third games of the season.
The Islanders are now just a point behind the Capitals for the first wild-card spot, though Washington has a game in hand. Kris Letang’s overtime winner kept the Penguins on level pegging with the Isles at 59 points, with Pittsburgh having four games in hand.
It’s only been two games since the break, and the Isles have been a streaky team all season. But right now, they look rejuvenated and energized after spending much of January hanging onto their season by a thread.
The vibes aren’t just on the ice. It has seeped into the dressing room, and into Lane Lambert and Lou Lamoriello’s interactions with media. All of a sudden, everyone is in a good mood.
That can and will end quickly if the winning does, too, but the shift is palpable since adding Horvat. The Islanders are not just repeating their belief in themselves out of rote habit. They feel it.
Keep it up and they might make believers of everyone else, too.