The Bridgeport Islanders wrapped up their tripleheader with their best performance of the weekend. After a 5-4 loss to the Hershey Bears on Nov. 17 and a 4-0 shutout loss to the Bears the next night, they stepped up on their home ice to defeat the Providence Bruins 3-1.
The win snapped a three-game losing streak for the Islanders and put them back into the win column for the first time since the Nov. 11, 2-1 overtime win over the Springfield Thunderbirds. At 5-9-1, they remain in last place in the Eastern Conference in the American Hockey League (AHL) but the performance was a bounce-back one for the entire team and most notably for the starting goaltender.
Skarek’s Bounce Back
Jakub Skarek has struggled to start the season. Entering Sunday’s game, he had a .879 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.62 goals-against average (GAA) and was coming off a rough start where he allowed five goals on 28 shots, resulting in the 5-4 loss to the Bears. Early on against the Bruins, it was clear that he was seeing the puck better and making more stops.
The defense helped him out early on, allowing only nine shots on goal in the first period and only eight in the second. However, Skarek was the difference maker in this game with multiple glove saves and a highlight-reel stop in the third period to help seal the 3-1 victory. While Skarek failed to earn the shutout with a third-period goal by the Bruins, he saved 29 shots in a much-needed rebound game.
Skarek at 24-years-old is still developing as a goaltender and has his rough nights in the net now and then. However, the performance against the Bruins was a reminder that when he’s on his mark, he’s a reliable AHL-level goaltender who can will the Islanders to victory.
Eetu Liukas Scores His AHL First
When the New York Islanders selected Eetu Liukas in the fifth round of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, they were hoping to land a well-rounded forward who could impact the game in all three zones. He’s a bigger-bodied skater at 6-foot-3 and weighing 203 pounds who not only plays in the dirty areas but takes advantage of open looks on the net. After joining the Islanders this offseason, this season has been a rough one offensively for the 21-year-old prospect as he’s struggled to find many opportunities. Against the Bruins, in a game the team needed to win, he finally made his mark.
With the Islanders controlling the puck in the offensive zone, he found an open look on the net from the faceoff circle to the left of Bruins goaltender Brandon Bussi. A quick pass from defenseman Dennis Cholowski allowed him to wind up and fire a slapshot that slipped past Bussi for the Islanders’ second goal of the game.
The goal was the first at the AHL level for Liukas and also his first point. He’s taken on a checking role with the Islanders but he’s proved he can find the back of the net with his shooting skill if given the opportunity. With the offense struggling, the question moving forward is if he can hone in on that shot to help turn the offense and the season as a whole around.
Dennis Cholowski Helps Out From The Point
A common theme of the Islanders’ offense this season has been getting the puck to the defensemen at the point, shooting the puck on the net, and hoping for a lucky bounce. Robin Salo, Grant Hutton, and veteran Seth Helgeson will put a handful of pucks on the net but their efforts have rarely created second-chance shots. In this game, Cholowski opted to look for the open skaters near the net and it helped the Islanders score each of their first two goals and ultimately lead the way in a 3-1 victory.
The first goal saw Cholowski move the puck forward in the offensive zone to keep possession alive and allow Ruslan Iskhakov to find Brian Pinho with an open shot. The next goal was exactly what the Islanders needed from their blue line as Cholowski saw an open Liukas and quickly passed him the puck for a one-timer to give the team a 2-0 lead.
The two assists give Cholowski seven on the season, second-most on the team behind Iskhakov who has eight. The 25-year-old defenseman is the best two-way player on the Islanders and his ability to find open skaters will allow him to make a difference throughout the season and help out an offense that is averaging only two goals per game.
Islanders’ Defense Steps Up
Skarek was the star of the night for the Islanders and the best player in the 3-1 victory. However, the defense played a significant role as they limited shooting lanes and prevented the Bruins from establishing a strong offensive zone presence.
The defense needed a game like this. They allowed five goals in the 5-4 defeat against the Syracuse Crunch on Nov. 14, five goals against the Bears on Nov. 17, and four goals against the Bears on Nov. 18. Against the Bruins, they were willing to block shots and clean up pucks near the net to help out Skarek.
The Bruins started applying pressure in the third period but it was too little and too late as the defense had already set the tone for the game. The one goal allowed was the only dark spot but otherwise, this was one of the best performances of the season from a unit that has struggled, allowing 3.21 goals per game.
What’s Next For The Islanders?
After back-to-back home games, the Islanders will head back on the road to face the Springfield Thunderbirds, a team they’ve had their way with this season. The Islanders defeated the Thunderbirds 3-2 on Nov. 5 and then on Nov. 11 in a 2-1 overtime victory and will look to sweep them in the month as they face them on Wednesday, Nov. 22.
The Islanders are finally back in the win column and it’s a big sigh of relief for a team that is having a rough season. The big thing for them is to start stringing together a few wins with the hopes of climbing out of last place in the Eastern Conference.