I love Frans Nielsen -- if you visit this site regularly, you've picked up on that and are ready to slap me. I love Frans for his hockey sense, for his savvy play, for how he frustrates opposing forwards despite his smallish frame, for his underrated hands, for his entertaining command of English during interviews. And for his kindly answering my pre-game request, which went like this:
I do agree with Scott Gordon that Frans Nielsen is very proficient in his defensive duties -- that cannot be argued, at this point. But even I, as a registered Frans Fanboy, want to see more offense from the Dane so that I may call him Great.
A sweet OT breakaway goal on home ice, executing his patented backhand deke: Now that's love.
There are many more reasons to love Nielsen's game-winner that have nothing to do with my personal whims, but we'll get to those later.
More importantly, the Flyers and Rangers each lost in regulation on a night when the Islanders ended their three-game losing streak, which means the Islanders are back up in third place in the Atlantic Division. Much more to consider (and video highlights) after the jump.
Rob Schremp Hockey(TM): No longer goal-less
Like whoa man: The Jesse Joensuu-Rob Schremp-Trent Hunter line showed some spark, eh? They were on for Michael Ryder's longshot goal, but uh, that wasn't their fault :cough:Rolli:. I was really pleased with their work, pleased Joensuu and his linemates made themselves physically noticeable all night and, of course, tickled by Rob Schremp's first NHL goal ... and spread-eagle fist-pumping celebration. Kudos to them for being among several Islanders -- Jon Sim being another -- who had Zdeno Chara pissing and moaning all night long.
My God, the Defense, We're Hosed
This is not your traditional complaint about our underskilled, undersized blueline (although I must ask: When was the last time you saw Brendan Witt break up a 2-on-1 down low? Not on the Krejci goal). Andy Sutton, one of the Isles better blueliners this year, is close to coming back -- but I'll tell you I'm fearful since he's pushing to come back from a groin injury that could recur anytime this season, particularly if they continue to lean on him hard.
So of course Jack Hillen, another of their top three, goes down to a foot injury tonight after just six shifts. That he tried to come back in the second and couldn't go has me fearing the worst -- to say nothing of the very evident pain he was in when the shot hit him.
Bailey at Left Wing: Experiment A
So Josh Bailey's first appearance was indeed on Nate Thompson and Richard Park's left wing. But the bulk of his night -- 15:00 of even-strength ice time -- was spent on the wing with Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo. I thought he had a good night. He looked alive, was physical. Perhaps most importantly, he found more than 10 minutes of ice time, which isn't always the case when he's behind Tavares and Nielsen at center. We'll see how this goes.
The Moulson-Tavares-Okposo Train
Good god, Mighty Matty Mo. Another even-strength goal. That makes 12 now, for a total of 15 goals on the year. And wow, that behind-the-back pass from John Tavares to set Moulson up. And Kyle Okposo, still "struggling" to score a goal but still piling up assists: eight in his last five games, including two tonight. He was also the third forward on the ice for the OT goal.
The OT Win: A Frans Shootout Move and a Bold Gordon
That's right: With Hillen hurt, Scott Gordon "went for it" in OT and had Okposo out there paired with Mark Streit, while the forwards were Blake Comeau and Frans Nielsen. So Okposo forced a Bruins pass that Streit disrupted, a backchecking Comeau (who had a great physical game) picked it up inside the Islanders blueline, took advantage of a pinching Andrew Ference and slid a very slick pass to spring Nielsen on the breakaway, where he converted in front of his mother, visiting from Denmark to see her first live NHL game.
Upon seeing Frans take the puck in the clear, I had the same reaction Gordon did:
"When I saw the '51 (Nielsen's number),' I'm like, 'This is going in,'" he said. "He excels in that area."
You damned right. And you know why I knew it was in? Of course you do: Because we've seen that Frans move beat countless goalies, mostly in the shootout. But you know what else rocked about that goal? Just because it's a move he uses in the shootout doesn't mean it's "a shootout move." No, this was no half-speed, no-backchecker kind of horsecrap trickery that the shootout encourages. This was no lazy Sunday sweeping wide because no one else is on the ice. This was a real-deal breakaway.
Don't take my word for it -- take the word of the goalie Nielsen beat. Here's Tim Thomas:
"He was coming extremely fast, and he almost started to lose it. He ended up making a great move, considering how fast he was moving and that he was losing it. It was way faster than a shootout."
It was way more entertaining and impressive than a shootout, too. But I nearly spit up my beer when I saw Nielsen crash into the boards afterward. I would have licked it back up once I saw him roll over with a smile instead of a grimace, though.
The Negative, and One More Positive
Yeah, so after two very nicely played periods left the score 2-2, the Islanders were outshot 17-3 in the third. At home. Not good. So they were lucky to survive long enough to get to OT. And that luck was pretty much thanks to Dwayne Roloson, who looked great and in control the whole period.
So, to recap: Schremp good, JT/Moulson/KO good (of course), Sim agitating, Roloson good, Comeau good, Streit tireless, Hillen hurt. Islanders in third place. Not a bad Saturday night, eh?
P.S. The goal song: I guess the decision was made. I wasn't happy with the choices, wasn't happy with the winner, but I thought it worked alright tonight. I still maintain that the goal horn and the crowd is what I hear (and like) most. But feel free to weigh in again.