The question: If a team is outplayed twice in a row yet wins both games, is it luck, or the mark of a good team?
You know what? We don't have to worry about that tonight. The Islanders with their 3-2 OT win in Tampa Bay are in first place in the Eastern Conference. It doesn't matter how early it is (seven games) or how OT-dependent it's been (2 OTW, 1 OTL, 1 SOL), just like it doesn't matter to others that they've done it without Mark Streit and Kyle Okposo, not to mention Rob Schremp and multiple games without John Tavares or Josh Bailey: Islanders fans have paid their dues in spades; all deserve to enjoy this moment as is.
The Islanders allowed waaaay too many breakaways and way too many outside rushes to the Lightning's speedy forwards. They also killed off a poorly called full two-minute 5-on-3 (Bless you, Frans). They scored on their own 5-on-3, then wasted a 1:53 OT 4-on-3 powerplay (well, almost: Matt Moulson's winner went in right after the penalty expired). They conceded a goal to former Islander Sean Bergenheim, but accepted key goals from two offseason wing additions in P.A. Parenteau and Michael Grabner.
It was a mixed game. It was a game teams with something to say sometimes win anyway.
And that's not even getting to the bizarre ending: A puck that fluttered over the goal line in mid air, but was swiped out by an acrobatic Dan Ellis, remained in play for a good 90 seconds until the next whistle. Then came the intensive video review which lasted some 10 minutes. [The St. Pete Times has a nice recap of that scenario with quotes from the NHL War Room and from TBL GM Steve Yzerman conceding it was the right call.]
Intuitively, you knew by replay it had gone in; but it was one of those "can they conclusively overrule the on-ice call based on available evidence?" type of reviews. Turns out yes, yes they can.
Moulson's Crazy Winner and Review
The winning goal credited to Matt Moulson; the victory credited to a shot-blocking PK, solid Rick DiPietro play, and some good fortune. This wasn't a repeat of the Roloson-dependent performance in Toronto, but the Isles were outshot 12-4 in the third -- right after they'd survived the absurd 5-on-3 in the second with the game still tied at 2-2. DiPietro held his end of the bargain.
Random Notes of Gaiety and Mild Concern
- Upon further review, Doug Weight's pass from behind the net to Nino Niederreiter on Michael Grabner's early first period goal was pretty ridiculous. Apparently, the hands are the last to go.
- Sean Bergenheim: Two breakaways. Really?! Two breakaways. He made mince meat of DiPietro's aborted pokecheck on the first breakaway, slipping it inside the post to DP's right. But the second breakaway, DiPietro stayed patient with him the entire way and shut the door on a modest deke.
- Martin St. Louis left the Islanders in the dust multiple times with his speed and diminutive elusiveness. On his goal, the victim was Mike Mottau, but multiple parties were victimized throughout the night.
- The 5-on-3: Another conversion for the Isles, this time after James Wisniewski half-whiffed on a shot, turning it into a pass to the "PAP Spot" where P.A. Parenteau slammed it home. Bizarrely, one ref thought of waiving it off, even though Matt Moulson was clearly outside the crease and Dan Ellis initiated any contact between the two.
- Radek Martinek again drew the bulk of EV assignments against Steven Stamkos, St. Louis and company. I honestly couldn't tell if it was him or others on the ice for their best chances, but it seemed overall the Islanders defense was caught being too far up ice.
Speaking of that: Personally I didn't notice much effect from Guy Boucher's vaunted "1-3-1." I did wonder early on if some of the Islanders' long shots from center ice (i.e. icing distance) to Ellis' goal were designed to try to jog the Lightning out of their typical roles. (That's never a threatening maneuver, of course, but when a team does something surprising it can get players thinking rather than acting naturally.) The Lightning announcers and coaching staff certainly found their team's effort lacking in the first period. Boucher afterward: "To be honest with you, I didn't care about the review," Boucher said. "We didn't come out in the first period. We didn't skate. We didn't battle. Half our bench wasn't there. Unacceptable." Ouch.
- Balance? The Islanders' scoring remains remarkably balanced through seven games: 12 players have goals, Parenteau still leads the team with 7 points, Moulson has 4 goals already, Nielsen is playing 18 minutes a game and starting in his own zone way more often than not. (Okay, that Frans note isn't scoring-related, but what he's doing is important in allowing the rest of the team to do what they're doing.)
- Nielsen had two 45-second shifts during that huge 2-minute 5-on-3 kill. The Lightning powerplay partly did itself in, but Nielsen's blocking and disruption at the point were an important assist.
Andrew MacDonald left the game early and didn't return; Blake Comeau looked hurt after a collision with the post
but skated fine in OT. [EDIT: At first, I thought I may have been hallucinating. I could've sworn I saw Comeau in OT but the NHL timesheet says nicht. However, it was probably during the "fake" post-goal time that was wiped from the record and essentially didn't happen. Strang also says Comeau played in OT and is fine.
All in all, winning games where you were worried all game is kind of nice, no?
- Wonce Again says DiPietro is back, baby.
- As far as illustration goes, 7th Woman and I had similar ideas.
- IPB Recap
- The Rivalry with some fun thoughts on IPB Night at Social
- Dad's Trip: The official site with its rendition; Mottau says he never got to do this with the Devils. (Presumably because Lou hates fun.)
- Finally, a heartfelt thanks to all of your responses in the LHH birthday post. I didn't meant to solicit that, but man you know I was happy that's how it turned out. Very cool of you.
In case it wasn't clear, the Isles remain in first. If they want to make something of this season when two of their best players come back, grabbing points early like this is HUGE. And really, really fun.
Pluses/Minuses and all other reactions are always encouraged. Random emissions of "woohoo!" too.