Well, that was not ideal, but it sure was cool.
Regardless of the disappointing ending in the NHL's coin-flip bonus point round -- you'd hope Tavares would convert his shootout attempt while Crosby would miss his, instead of vice versa -- this Islanders home opener was one fine game in front of one fine crowd.
The line of John Tavares/Kyle Okposo/Matt Moulson was dynamic and dangerous all night long, giving us another hint that the Islanders have two stars in the making. Tavares seemed to tire by the third period -- hopefully from first night adrenaline excess rather than anything else -- but Scott Gordon kept running him out there (22:05 total TOI, 47% on faceoffs) with the game on the line.
Tavares not only gave a loud home crowd his first career point, with a helper on the powerplay; he gave us his first-ever goal on a play we'll expect to see more of: Corralling the puck in tight, lifting a sweet backhand over Marc-Andre Fleury. (video after the jump)
If this were a storybook, Tavares would have then potted the winner in OT or on that shootout breakaway. Instead, he missed his second breakaway and fired his shootout attempt awkwardly wide, while Crosby calmly slipped the puck by Dwayne Roloson at a slow "breakaway" speed that can only happen in the NHL after 65 minutes of actual competitive, real hockey has been played.
I remember seeing Sidney Crosby in his early days and noting each learning step he took while adjusting to the world's elite league. I forgot just how interesting it can be to watch a budding star push and probe his way with baby steps. When Tavares has the puck, there's already an electricity in the air, and you can see defenders test the waters of how to play him.
It was also nice to have a bona fide NHL starting goalie in there. Roloson had a few fat rebounds and shaky moments, but overall he played his angles with poise and confidence. That the two final Penguins goals were on fluky bounces means I have no quarrel with Roloson on this night. He did his job.
Of course, Fleury did his job better -- by stopping Tavares on a real-time breakaway and by giving him little daylight to shoot at in the bonus round. So the Pens took the majority of points, but the Isles left their fans eagerly looking for more.
Meanwhile, Jay McKee's reaction to Brendan Witt's hard but legal open-ice hit on ol' buddy Ruslan Fedotenko was as ill-advised as it was predictable. Also ill-advised yet somewhat familiar: Veteran Billy Guerin getting into it with youngster Kyle Okposo late in a tie game, ultimately taking a stupid slashing penalty to give the Isles a late powerplay. Come on McNulty, you're better than that. You just got schooled by a sophomore.
- Understatement of the weekend: Arthur Staple thinks Tavares could be good.
- Charles Wang's Oct. 3 deadline passed, of course. Begin the not-so-subtle bidding as everyone waits on Kate and friends.
- Katie Strang's wrapup includes some good quotes on the type of hockey this team expects to play.
- All night, nhl.com played up the Kid vs. the "Next Kid" show.
- Frank has the Penguins perspective at Pensburgh.
Sights and Sounds
Wow, there were many cool Penguins fans, but their presence was soiled by several straight-up d-bags. I hate this: I met so many Pens fans who were fun to exchange thoughts with, yet it's the vile weasels I'll end up remembering months later.
You know David Spade's drunk sorority character from SNL who is an incessantly crying drunk? That's what select drunk fans were like: Obnoxious, incoherent, and frequently tossed by security for trying to start fights or for continuing to unleash sailor language around children despite repeated requests to take a wee reality check. A pity that this mixed box of tools made Pens fans seem so trashy by association. I know it happens all the time, but I'll regret it all the time just the same. D-bags of the world: Learn to hold your liquor, or else drink tea.
The funniest simplistic chant from a couple of the slobbery drunk bastards was "Stan-ley Cup, Stan-ley Cup." A brief glance at the rafters by your average literate folk would indicate that the Islanders fanbase is actually quite familiar with the Cup, four times over, in fact -- and without a single tank job to achieve it. But I got the impression that these frat boys wouldn't remember that any more than they'd remember 1993, the year of an upset that is currently the difference between their club having a fourth Cups of their own. Whatever, though; hockey overcomes bad drunks every time.
... If the "John-Ta-var-es" chants were loud in pregame, the roof absolutely blew off when the touted rookie netted his first-ever goal.
... Trent Hunter's one-timer from the left faceoff circle: Hello, missile. Shame it didn't stand.
Speaking of which, great screen by Hunter on Mark Streit's powerplay goal (created by the McKee incident), and great job by Hunter to grab the puck on Tavares' first career goal before the red light had even turned on.
... Nice to see Josh Bailey at par, 8-for-16 on faceoffs. If he and Tavares each end up being solid on faceoffs, I'll feel a lot better about this minor detail in the Islanders' future.
My hosts were great, the fans I met were great, the building was great -- as much as the Isles need a new building, there is something special about the sound that these old, simple barns can create. It was sincerely great to meet a lot of people I've been in touch with online; every one was every bit as cool as I expected. Y'all are stars.
We ended up taking the train too late to make tailgating, so I didn't meet everyone I wanted to meet. But that's why there's a next time.