Kiefer Bellows propels Islanders past depleted Sabres

Kiefer Bellows propels Islanders past depleted Sabres


For once, a night that started with an announcement about COVID-19 ended well for the Islanders.

After an 11-day layoff and a pregame announcement in which four players came off the COVID list, one went on and another went on IR — for a total of six regulars missing (a contemporary world problem if there ever was one) — the Islanders … won? Yes, won.

Kieffer Bellows sparked a two-goal second period and the Islanders disposed of the shorthanded Sabres, 4-1, Friday night at UBS Arena to improve to 9-12-6 and end 2021 on the sort of high note that has been missing all too often of late.

The rosters were reflective of the NHL’s current reality. The Islanders were down six regulars, while the Sabres were missing 10 players and their coach, Don Granato, between injuries and COVID. But the Islanders did have Bellows, who played unlikely hero.

Bellows, who has been thrust into a regular second-line spot thanks to the rotating cast of absences, might just warrant discussion about whether he should stick around when the Islanders finally get healthy.

Kiefer Bellows celebrates after scoring a goal in the Islanders’ 4-1 win over the Sabres.
USA TODAY Sports

He played on Thursday with jump in a game that didn’t have much of it. At 6:45 in the second period, Bellows took the puck himself, stickhandling through three defenders before letting loose a laser past Malcolm Subban to put the Islanders up, 2-1. That was not the sort of play that Bellows, a grinder who came into Thursday averaging 11:02 of ice time per night, is supposed to make.

Bellows the playmaker showed up again later in the second. With the Islanders on the power play, his pass inside resulted in a loose puck in the crease, which ended with Anders Lee pirouetting and slapping a backhand shot into the net.

The Islanders have gotten next to no production from the wing all year. Kyle Palmieri, Zach Parise, Anthony Beauvillier and Josh Bailey have all suffered dry spells. Bellows isn’t meant to be the guy who makes up for that. But on Thursday, he was.

Mathew Barzal celebrates after scoring a goal in the Islanders' win.
Mathew Barzal celebrates after scoring in the Islanders’ 4-1 win over the Sabres.
Robert Sabo

Noah Dobson sealed the win with a slap shot through the five-hole with 8:17 left in the third.

The Islanders played up ice in the early part of the game, giving an air of control despite being outshot 13-9 in the first period. Mathew Barzal opened the scoring with a wrist shot past Subban at 12:36 in the period, courtesy of some fine passing on the rush from Dobson and Josh Bailey. Kyle Okposo tied the score at 1-1 later in the period, scoring on a power play after Semyon Varlamov left a rebound free around the net.

It’s easy to forget, with the mere playing of games a bigger story than the games themselves, that the Islanders have a three-game point streak and some confidence to go with it. They played the Sabres with an understated discipline — mistake-free and smart. Barzal, who finished with a goal and eight shots on net, has a seven-game point streak and looks like his old self again.

The Islanders somehow are still not healthy, but they no longer are playing like a decimated team. These results had been coming. In December, the Islanders got at least a point in eight of 10 games.

It would be better if they had gotten two points in more than four of them. But that makes for an easy new year’s resolution.

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Rachel Meadows

Rachel Meadows

Trending topics news writer who enjoys cooking, walking her dog and travel.

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