John Tavares is not just a sniper. He's a smart hockey player with vision and passing skills. Which is why tonight, 53 seconds into overtime, he took advantage of non-physical Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom to convert a non-threatening rush along the corner boards into a wide-open setup of Mark Streit in the slot for the game-winning goal.
It doesn't matter that the Capitals -- again -- didn't play their best game, including the crucial final play. What matters is that the Islanders played a full 60+ minutes to finally take advantage of what another team ceded to them, ending that team's six-game winning streak.
The Islanders even overcame some weak penalty calls (in one case, with the help of a "veteran" dive by Dwayne Roloson, though in other cases with aggressive penalty killing). Granted, 2-for-6 on the PK is no crown, but you'd typically expect that adversity to sink an underdog against the Capitals powerplay. But Roloson held the fort and Great Dane Frans Nielsen took advantage of mistakes by potting two goals. And get this: The Islanders outscored the Caps 4-1 at even-strength (including 4-on-4 OT).
Goaltending: Jose Theodore appeared to fight the puck much of the night -- both in blocking and handling the puck. The second goal allowed to Nielsen was low and Theodore was not ready. In contrast, Roloson's glove was the most important piece of gear on the ice outside of Okposo's motor and Nielsen's brain, although Roloson's clumsy wandering created the Caps' second goal.
Nielsen: His first goal was him on the forecheck, pressuring Mike Green, accepting Green's gift-wrapped whiff, and still placing the puck expertly into the top corner from close range. I will not stop praising Nielsen until you write his name on your locker, and bedazzle it.
Future U.S. Olympian Kyle Okposo put the Islanders in the hole with an unfortunate 4-minute high-stick that led to Alex Ovechkin's PP goal. Then, like we're almost coming to expect, he took the puck up the middle and fired a goal from the high slot to tie it 1-1.
Defense: The Islanders were outshot 40-30. That's just gonna happen against the Caps. But once again, Radek Martinek was strong against the Caps' big guns, while Streit and Andy Sutton had very strong games in 20+ minutes of ice time.
Ice Time Victims: Tim Jackman (8:13), Jeff Tambellini (9:32), and Josh Bailey (11:43) brought up the rear in ice time. In back, Jack Hillen (12:26) had slightly less than Brendan Witt (13:18), who did fine.
This point last year, the Islanders were 4-7-1 for 9 points. Now? 3-4-5 for 11 points. Two more points, and a much, much different experience getting there.
State of the Squad
I crowed in the preview that if the Islanders pulled off a win against a better opponent this weekend, I'd be on board with the belief that progress is happening now, that the team is already evolving before our eyes -- without another miserable early-season valley first -- and that the OTLs were indeed a sign of a team close to real progress. Baby steps, but ... yeah baby: I see real learning.
Saturday night at home to the Sabres -- who squeaked by Toronto 3-2 in OT Friday night -- doesn't get any easier. But this right here? This is progress.
Commence celebration after the horn. (Check the other side's view at Japers' Rink. P.S. Rangers lost in Minnesota in Gaborik's injury-scratch homecoming, so yeah ... a nice Friday night.)