If the problem while last season was still young was that they were "40-Minute Islanders," at least tonight the Isles added 10 minutes or so to their flawed equation.
The Isles built an improbable 3-0 lead going into the third and -- in a positive sign -- killed off a Bruins powerplay to start the final period, then played the next 8 minutes as if they knew how to finish a game off. After that, not so much, as the Bruins scored on three screen shots within a 5:27 span.
This one isn't on Dwayne Roloson. And while I'll listen to all theories, I don't think it's on Scott Gordon either. It's a young team, probably a little surprised to be in that position in Boston, going into chaotic "protect" mode as soon as things got dicey. I guarantee Gordon didn't tell them to panic, to stop pressing like they did in the first half of the third, and to start running around their own zone as shots rained down from the point, passes crossed from the half-boards, and battles were lost in the corners.
That, one can only hope, is a correctable problem. But what stinks is this game featured so many good signs, it was a great opportunity for a young team to prove -- very early in the season -- what it could do.
Really, this game should have been a 3-0 shutout. The Bruins are in a funk something serious, and the Islanders leveraged that perfectly for 50 minutes. The Islanders powerplay wasn't great, but they kept pressing and earning extra-man chances. When it was their turn in the box, the penalty killing unit continued its improbably perfect run to start the season (including 5 for 5 tonight). Everything was working.
But then Marc Savard turned and scored from a bad angle through a Brendan Witt screen Roloson couldn't have seen, and the young wheels came off. Andy Sutton was absolutely undressed by Byron Bitz -- he of 9:24 TOI -- and Freddy Meyer helped kick Bitz's spinaround shot past Roloson, who again couldn't have seen it (and had he seen it, Meyer's sprint to cover for Sutton helped move Roloson from his set position). Finally, Matt Hunwick's shot from the point went high and through Bruno Gervais, whose man was -- get this -- screening Roloson.
I'm not going to dwell on the Islanders' blueline beyond that -- I fear there will be plenty of time for that this season. But when the storm was incoming, the defensemen couldn't clear bodies from in front of Roloson, and the forwards were running around like the proverbial headless chickens. Which deficiency emerged first? Chicken or egg? Youthful panic or veteran fatigue?
And the shootout -- I can't be arsed to even bother with that half-speed breakaway drill, which seems to look less and less like real game conditions with each passing season. (Seriously, when players aren't skating to the half-boards or crashing into the goalie, they're carrying the puck in at a speed where their own goalie could catch them on the backcheck.) Suffice to say, the one shootout attempt that hasn't beaten Roloson this year was zinged off his right post by Patrice Bergeron. (Also: Kyle Okposo's magic somehow eludes him when he has all the time in the world in the shootout's laboratory conditions.)
But dammit, there was a good game here for 50 minutes.
So to the positives, 'cause I really do like watching this team grow
We'll start with this:
- John Tavares: Now THAT shot, that is why we freaked out like Mardi Gras last June 26. Postage stamp shot on a 3-on-1. Tuukka Rask played the angle and still didn't have a prayer. Wow. (Meanwhile, Tavares' "tac" pass in the tic-tac-toe on Radek Martinek's goal was lovely.)
- Sean Bergenheim: Alright, that's the Bergie game we need: Hustling, drawing penalties, being a general Finnish nuisance. Even his penalty, while superficially stupid, was one of those penalties that wouldn't happen if the trendy one-piece sticks were any more durable than Radek Martinek.
- Kyle Okposo: Shootout aside, he came, he saw, he went 110% again. Loved the power move to try to win the game after the Bruins had tied it at 3-3.
- Rob Schremp: His first powerplay point, on a nice cross-ice pass. He's shown the vision we heard about -- in that realm, he already impresses me more than Jeff Tambellini. Oh, and he can convert a shootout, which is unfortunately necessary in the 2009 NHL.
- Dwayne Roloson: Shootout aside, he did everything he needed to do to earn an Islanders win. I hope he let the boys hear it a little after the game.
- Jon Sim: He scored from Jon Sim's Office -- the five-foot-wide region around the goal crease. He didn't just dumbly jam at that rebound, either; he lifted it over Rask like a guy who's made his living in that area.
Joel Rechlicz: I could talk about the hockey mythology that states his whopping 2:19 of ice time somehow deterred the Bruins from being physical, but one -- I don't buy it, and two -- he simply did well by not being goaded into a momentum-changing feat of strength. Good on the young enforcer, and bonus points for switching to a wooden stick. If you won't get many minutes and won't use your stick much, why not have a cool signature like that?
- Tim Jackman had just 12 shifts and 6:41, so the Islanders were basically a three-line team. That's fine, particularly with all the special teams time. But as the schedule gets busier, that will bear further watching.
That's my dose of positivity for the night. Wait! One more: The Islanders are, indeed, undefeated in regulation time. 0-0-3 looks funny, but despite our frustrations it's not been a bad start. In fact, I'll close by quoting WebBard's summation at the end of the game thread, because it sat well with me (that said, I'm curious to hear others):