The New York Islanders closed out their road trip with decisive win Sunday, downing the Buffalo Sabres 3-2 at First Niagara Center.
The scoreboard didn’t reflect one-sided affair, as the Islanders held the Sabres to 10 shots, tying a franchise record for shots allowed. The Islanders had 31 shots and out-attempted the home team 68-28. The Sabres scored twice in a late second period push, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the Islanders early 3-0 advantage, with Mikhail Grabovski’s ninth of the season holding up as the game-winner.
“They made a really good push there in the second period, but I thought we did a good job of buckling down,” said Travis Hamonic, who had two assists. “We played our defensive style and I think we needed that right now. It was a good team win. It was collective; a good win for the boys.”
McDonald made the most of his first NHL game since Oct. 21, netting the Islanders opening goal. Reunited with Casey Cizikas and Matt Martin, McDonald drove to the net and finished a cross-crease feed from Cizikas at the 16:19 mark of the first period.
“I was waiting for my opportunity,” McDonald said. “I understand my role and the role I am in this year and you just have to be ready whenever they put you in. I was glad to get one in the net.”
The Islanders blitzed the Sabres at the start of the second period, holding the home team without a shot in the opening 12-and-a-half minutes. The pressure resulted in two goals, a power-play marker from Lee and Grabovski’s winner, 62 seconds apart.
First, Hamonic tipped a Lee feed wide of the net, but the Notre Dame grad snatched the puck from behind the net, brought it back out front and tucked it in behind Michal Neuvirth at 10:20.
Then, a minute later, Hamonic picked up his second assist, drawing attention deep in the Sabres zone off a faceoff play and dishing to Grabovski in the slot. Grabovski made no mistake, sniping the top corner behind Neuvirth for his third goal in seven games.
The Sabres were still without a shot when Grabovski put the Islanders up 3-0, but a Ted Nolan timeout sparked Buffalo, who scored twice before the period was over.
Marcus Foligno put the Sabres on the board 1:11 after the timeout, tangling himself with Thomas Hickey and knocking in a rebound at 12:33. Drew Stafford scored on the Sabres next shot, beating Jaroslav Halak with a nifty backhand deke in tight.
“Even though they got the two goals, I don’t think they turned the tide a lot,” John Tavares said. “They responded and we stayed with it and didn’t give them a lot in the third.”
The third period unfolded much like the previous two, with the Islanders generating a bulk of the chances, while holding a considerable possession and territorial advantage. Brock Nelson and Lee had the best chances of the third period, as Nelson broke through for a breakaway while Lee deflected a shot off the post.
Halak was not busy Sunday night, but made eight saves en route to his 28th win of the season. Neuvirth made 28 saves in the loss. Harry Zolniercyzk made his Islanders debut, skating 11:57 TOI with one shot and three hits.
The Islanders return home for a four-game homestand, beginning Tuesday night against the Edmonton Oilers. Puck drop is at 7 p.m.