As if to underline how a hockey season plays out as unpredictably as a holiday dinner with your extended family, today the Islanders broke a 14-game winless streak thanks to the heroics of a goalie who looked out of his element three weeks ago, with goals from forwards who didn't break camp with the team two months ago, and a defense patched together after injuries featuring a 20-year-old as one of its best performers. Hockey.
As with every game during this nearly franchise record-threatening string, this team's flaws were on display. Despite coming controlling the first period and getting an insurance goal early in the second, the Isles took the foot off the gas and played prevent, getting outshot 13-1 in the 3rd and 24-7 over the final two periods.
But when we haven't seen a win in November until now, I'm not about to gripe about all that right now. Five days until the next game, and a full season to air what ills -- today is about one, long, therapeutic sigh of relief. The streak is dead.
Capuano on His First NHL Win: 'Good job for almost two periods...'
- Plus: Zero complaints about Rick DiPietro, who was outstanding in earning his first shutout since last January against the Devils -- a game that hardly tested him, whereas this one provided tests throughout. Again he stayed within himself and reason on puckhandling opportunities. More importantly, he was positionally sound throughout and recovered and moved laterally well. By going into collapse-and-pray mode, the Isles subjected him to several shots through traffic -- any of which could have bounced the wrong way -- but he did his part by always playing the percentages, spotting the puck through traffic, getting a toe on the puck here, a glove on it there.
- Plus: Jesse Joensuu and Michael Grabner did some nice things with Frans Nielsen, not the least of which was the pretty play to open scoring (Grabner taking the hit to feed it to Nielsen, Nielsen making a horizontal pass across the slot to a wide-open JJ, who one-timed it in). When Trent Hunter is healthy he makes an underrated defensive wingman for Nielsen; today his replacement didn't look completely out of place.
Minus: From Katie Strang: Grade 3 MCL tear for Trent Hunter; out indefinitely. Grief. (Grade 3 is the most severe kind, indicating complete tear and usually the dreaded "6 months" type of recovery.)
- Plus: Travis Hamonic, who if he wasn't 20, I'd say "keep him, keep him now!" Such proclamations are the downfall of many a young defensemen, so we'll see how it goes while he's here. But his immediate, smart-and-safe impact has been impressive enough to make us believe the hype. Physically, he made a great play on wily veteran Patrik Elias and knocked big David Clarkson down with the simplest of gestures. And he's 20. Nice.
- Happy: Seriously, Hamonic contributed the kind of simple, smart, no-frills work we expect (and have missed during this streak) from the injured Andrew MacDonald.
- Plus: Rob Schremp Hockey's goal was sick. Think the same angle as his baseball-swing goal in Colorado, only this time he converted the (insightful) Blake Comeau pass instead of catching and batting a rebound out of the air. Whatever your thoughts on this player, you know that his bright moments provide fun highlights like that.
- Minus: The biggest minus was already mentioned; they sat on the lead too much, exposing themselves to danger that different luck or a better opponent would've cost them.
- Plus but Minus: Bruno Gervais stepped up after Colin White checked P.A. Parenteau from behind into the boards. The minus is that this took two minutes off the five-minute powerplay that was coming thanks to White's hit, and Bruno also received a one-punch TKO. He was dazed, quite evidently, and I hope this doesn't lead to concussed symptoms today or tomorrow. He did return for a regular shift after his 17 PIM were up.
Minus: Woe, woe is the powerplay. Bruno's instigator almost didn't matter, because the Isles continue to struggle to even gain decent zone time with the extra man, much less use it to produce a goal. It's getting as unreal as the winless streak. Today they tried some time with Nielsen back on the point opposite Wisniewski again, but the collective unit never got it in the zone long enough to gauge whether that setup provided anything different.
Neutral: With every long-term deal -- which inherently trades some long-term risk for some near-term reward, there are moments where the latter looks unachievable. I'm wondering at what point the Ilya contract is going to look like a good idea, even for some near-term success? Hard to imagine any this year, given how it's started and how the Devils have been handcuffed. It's surreal to watch that team try to fit him in. I'm fascinated at the possibilities for the next decade-plus.
Honestly, it's hard to evaluate individuals for much of this game since the Isles were playing conservative with the lead. Collectively, they blocked a lot of shots and angled a lot of shooting opportunities into weaker positions -- all of which is necessary once you've decided that approach is how you're going to go.
So we know this team has major weaknesses -- we've gone over them back and forth for about a month of winlessness now. Today is just one massive Thanksgiving Deferred: The Islanders won(!)... the streak is dead... the Islanders have finally won. That's enough for now.