Oh hockey, you beast, you giveth and you taketh away. One night you treat us to a perfectly executed, convincing win against the hottest Southeast foe. Two nights later you frustrate us with a flailing powerplay that couldn't get the puck in against a Southeast team that had lost four in a row.
Though the refs made a soft interference call to disallow what would have been the only Islanders goal, Lightning goalie Mike Smith very much earned this shutout. Though all the "intent to blow" calls lately make me wonder how the refs allowed Ryan Malone to poke the puck free from Dwayne Roloson's glove on the first goal, the Islanders very much earned this 4-0 loss.
It wasn't that the Islanders were awful, but they were certainly out of sync. Had they faced a weaker goalie, perhaps they'd have achieved a more flattering score. Tip your hat to Smith's 30 saves -- several of them highlight reel quality -- and hope for his sake that this is a sign his pre-concussion form is attainable.
Partly thanks to Smith, and partly due to their own failings, the Islanders drew several powerplays but could not score. The first was a generous 1:21 5-on-5 that produced a few chances and a few gaffes. Shortly after that failure, Brendan Witt took a frankly stupid slashing penalty on a Martin St. Louis breakaway, and the Lightning converted on the ensuing PP to make it 2-0. To add insult, the anticipated first John Tavares-Victor Hedman meeting produced little of interest from either of them ... until Hedman finally netted his first NHL goal on a nice pinch to complete the scoring half way through the third.
The Witt Penalty
Well, there were two, but the first was another example that makes me wonder if they ever can teach this old dog new tricks. It's the new NHL -- it has been since 2006 -- and you simply cannot take free hacks at a guy on a breakaway anymore. What was worse about this one is the home run pass from Vincent Lecavalier was bouncing, so St. Louis had to chase it off to the side, in a far from ideal shooting position. So not only did Witt take a sure-penalty slash on a guy, he took it on a guy who was now in a low-percentage shooting position. And the slash, incidentally, did nothing to weaken the scoring chance. It's hard to unlearn old habits, I know; it's also hard to watch a guy who used to be very effective make the same avoidable mistakes.
The Bergenheim/Nielsen/Hunter Line
Thursday they were heroes for shutting down Kovalchuk and company, tonight Sean Bergenheim, Trent Hunter and Frans Nielsen were each minus-2. [UPDATE: No, no they weren't. As our emerging eagle-eye commenter BenHasna pointed out, the NHL game sheet had it wrong yet again. This line wasn't on for goal #4, but rather Witt and Jackman and friends were. Question everything.] But they didn't have awful nights; they produced some of the Islanders' better scoring chances, with 8 shots between them. (Hunter's first-period blast even cracked the glass behind Mike Smith.) But no one looks good in a 4-0 shutout.
The 2009 Draft Matchup
Well, this angle was a dud. Eighteen-year-olds playing night after night in the NHL will have their anonymous nights, and tonight was no different for Tavares and almost for Hedman. If I were watching in a vacuum, I'd have had a very hard time figuring these two guys were the two brightest stars picked last summer. Hedman's goal salvaged his night and made it memorable. But before then, he looked like a very big guy with agility and the capacity to be a pretty good defenseman.
Tavares left even less of an impression: He looked like a guy with some nice hands and moves, which only yielded a single shot tonight. (Hedman had two shots.) That's alright; even superstar veterans have quiet nights. I know both of these guys will treat us to some epic nights for many years to come.
Steve Downie: Still a Fool
Steve Downie showed nice hands scoring a powerplay goal in tight during the first period. Later, he showed the complete lack of perspective that has landed him in trouble multiple times in his checkered career. After zealously stabbing at Roloson's pads past when play was whistled dead, he received the predictable shoving response from upset Islanders defenders, including Andrew MacDonald.
Downie's Mensa response? To immediately start raining uppercuts on MacDonald, as if they were in a fight. Downie picked up the extra roughing minor, and could have drawn more for his three free shots. At every level of hockey, there's always some guys who just don't get it.
It's still anemic. 0 for 5 on this night, with 7 shots on goal. In fact, the Islanders looked more dangerous at 5-on-5, which is probably why they drew so many powerplays.
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Overall, a disappointing showing in what might have been quite a winnable game. Worse, a missed chance to climb a little in the standings and create some space above the Flyers, who were demolished at home by the Capitals in Peter Laviolette's Philadelphia debut.
There was a more significant event tonight, of course: Rick DiPietro's return to competitive action in Bridgeport. He let in one softie among 3 goals on 13 shots in 40 minutes of action (actually, a lot of that time there was no action). The Sound Tigers built a 3-0 lead before Springfield erased that against DiPietro. A 3rd-period surge gave Bridgeport a 7-3 win.
We'll have more on that tomorrow, but check these reports from nhl.com, Chris Botta at FanHouse (and his PB play-by-play), and Islesblogger Mike's live blog as well as his Twitter bits on the game. You know Mike Fornabaio will have more, too.