Even with the Islanders failing to cap their comeback by stealing the OT bonus point, league-wide this game will be marked by the first instance of the NHL's headshot automatic ejection rule being misapplied, to Kris Letang.
However, if any teams deserve to have that rule blow up in their face, it's teams that employ players like Matt Cooke, whose dirty play -- which indicates blatant disregard for the health of his colleagues -- typifies why the league and his NHLPA colleagues created the rule in the first place.
Each team fumbled multiple powerplay chances. Neither team could be particularly proud of their 60+ minutes, though each shined in brief spurts of 5-on-5 play that the game occasionally allowed. For the Islanders the most positive sign was the PK and how Josh Bailey and Blake Comeau continued to stake claims that they've reached another level. "The Kids are Alright" theme continues even without John Tavares or Kyle Okposo in the lineup.
Bailey in particular excelled in multiple areas, including surprisingly going after Letang after Bailey and others (including the refs) thought Letang's blindside hit on Comeau was also a headshot. (It wasn't; clean shoulder-to-shoulder.) Between periods, he explained:
"Obviously [Comeau] got blindsided and didn't see anything coming. We've got a good group of guys, everybody looks out for one another, so something needed to be done."
Fortunately Comeau proved okay and returned to have another strong game that included several great plays on the PK. Fortunately Bailey and fellow lightweight Letang never actually got in a real altercation, leaving Bailey with just a 2-minute minor and the Isles with a 3-minute powerplay with the balance. The Isles scored once, but for the rest of the game the powerplay failed them.
Penalties and Complaints and We've Got a Series
The proverbial groundhog in Pennsylvania rears his head each Feb. 2. Matt Cooke rears his 82 games a year. True to form, he committed consecutive third-period penalties for running Rick DiPietro -- and naturally the Penguins crowd cried foul and started booing DiPietro every time he touched the puck, as if it is possible to embellish the level of toolishness that Cooke displays on every shift.
The Penguins had a beef on Letang's ejection (but again: They employ Matt Cooke, so...karma). But they also received eight powerplays, including a lengthy 5-on-3, a four-minute high-stick on Nino Niederreiter and the OT soft call (was it Mike Mottau's foul wrongly attributed to Milan Jurcina?) that led to the 4-on-3 OT winner. My guess is the booing was a venting outlet for their team's continued struggles at home and on the powerplay.
Regardless, some bad blood started to develop in this game between two teams taking turns squandering powerplays. This series just might be a closer fight this year. Certainly it will be intense.
- Bailey (24:25 TOI) stuck up for Comeau (whom he thought had been wronged), scored on the ensuing powerplay, was the brightest spot on the powerplay all night, and displayed patience and good hand throughout. Is this kid breaking out? It's just four games, but he has that look.
- Comeau likewise continued his strong start, with two points and those excellent blocks, interceptions and scoring chances while on the penalty kill.
- In terms of making saves, Rick DiPietro looked better than in the previous two games, though he's yet had to make any "big" game-saving saves. (One on Pascal Dupuis might qualify). A lot of traffic for him tonight. He took several collisions (Cooke twice, then a third when Cooke ran P.A. Parenteau into DiPietro) and got up. He still recovers in a way that makes you wonder if he's still relearning the limits of his body. Work in progress, unknown future, possibly getting better. Butch Goring hilariously said on the broadcast something like "when he's set and can see the puck, he's so fast he'll save it 99 times out of a hundred." But of course goaltending is more about moving to said set position rather than just making a save when you're there. And his lateral mobility remains an open question, and whether he's getting his form back or has a more permanent issue there is...well it's unknown until it's known.
- Milan Jurcina had a rough game, the first Penguins goal bouncing in off his skate and drawing (probably inaccurately) the OT penalty. He was credited with a team-high four hits and zero giveaways, which is definitely not how many saw it.
- Mike Mottau, a very nice pickup by Garth Snow, is just one of those ideal depth defensemen: Versatile, makes smart/safe plays when needed, can even fill in on the powerplay without you worrying he's going to cough it up. Not stellar, but seldom worries you.
- Jack Hillen (9:00 TOI) continues to lack faith from Scott Gordon this year.
- Too Many Men: Two such penalties in this one, bringing them to four in four games. This must stop.
- Nino: Just like that, five games left before the Nino Decision.
This gig resumes quickly tomorrow at home with the Avalanche, who won 3-2 in New Jersey. There's no crying in hockey -- time to get both points Saturday night.