For just a 1-1 draw between inter-conference opponents, that game was quite entertaining: Stretches of end-to-end action, big hits, brave shot blocks, crazy hops, shady penalties aptly killed off by both sides. Other than the shootout and a few misplays at his feet, Martin Biron had a strong first post-deadline showing.
And the Islanders, playing with a shortened bench, put on a pretty gutsy, smart display. When these teams met in November, the Islanders let a close game at the 2nd intermission get away from them and turn into a 4-1 loss. Tonight, entering the third tied 1-1, they did not let that happen. Baby steps.
I wondered before the game how Scott Gordon would handle the loss of Rob Schremp. He started off having Doug Weight and Richard Park center separate lines, but he soon shortened the bench, leaving Jon Sim (9:08) and especially Tim Jackman (6:36) and Trevor Gillies (5:25) the odd men out at forward, while Dylan Reese (9:43) got the short exposure on defense. Mark Streit led with 31:02, 5:45 on the PK. Frequent need of special teams made it easy to avoid rolling four lines.
Another nice sign? The Blues' scariest line is T.J. Oshie and Paul Kariya with David Backes. But Gordon let John Tavares (-18 in his rookie year), Matt Moulson and Blake Comeau face them on most shifts, and they handled themselves just fine. In fact, between them and the Kyle Okposo/Frans Nielsen/Josh Bailey line, we once again got a glimpse of how the Islanders can ice two promising young lines.
Game Highlights (Saves and Hits, Mostly)
In what can only be described as an affront to justice, Chris Mason had the gall to stop Frans Nielsen in the shootout. It wasn't Nielen's best effort -- he didn't sell the forehand well enough and left himself little room -- but Mason shut the door, and likewise left Matt Moulson no room on his failed attempt.
Oshie and Brad Boyes each converted with laser precision on their attempts.
This and That
Saddest Sight of the Night: Rob Schremp on crutches.
Discipline Sighting: Trevor Gillies had limited minutes, but he did just fine. He laid a big check on Erik Johnson early on to send a little message. He did not repeat his mistake from the Philly game. Reportedly he grew up an Islanders fan (he's old enough to remember the good times), so good for him for getting to spend some time around the Coliseum.
Reason #78 I'm Not a Pro Hockey Player: Bruno Gervais had another good game, and he was blocking shots like the second coming of Andy Sutton. He was helped off the ice after taking one Johnson shot off the top of the foot, yet he was back within minutes -- and standing in front of Johnson's shots again. I'd have abstained, myself.
Special Teams: Partly thanks to Gervais' work (26:33, 5:24 on PK), the PK bent but only broke once. Richard Park had two third-period penalties that put them in a bind -- the final one carrying over to OT -- but they withstood the barrage. The powerplay converted once in the form of Matt Moulson and looked good at other times. Ironically, the worst PP may have been the Isles' full two-minute 4-on-3 in OT, which should have been the easiest of them all.
Boom Goes the Dyno-Finn: I've watched a lot of Oshie, and he always takes opposing checkers by surprise (as Freddy Meyer found out when he tried to repeat an early hit on Oshie). But tonight, Oshie -- who was everywhere -- got Oshied by Sean Bergenheim. They both went head to head, and Bergie stood his ground while Oshie went flying. Of course, Oshie still got up and was first to the puck. Such is the high and low of Bergenheim's game.
Bad Luck: Biron made some great saves -- so did Mason -- but a lot of chances from both sides were foiled by bad ice. Nielsen had a great PP tic-tac-toe bounce on him at the doorstep. Soon afterward, Bergenheim had a crazy bounce off the glass go to him with an open net -- only to have the puck bounce on him and see his shot sky high.
* * *
Yeah, this was another winless game, and the Isles are still seeing poor results on both sides of the Olympic break. But with the playoff bubble a distant memory, I'm frankly looking for smart play from the kids who will be here a while, and tonight I saw that.
All told, this was one of those back-and-forth, evenly played games, where a lucky bounce could have changed the tempo, but instead the teams kept going at it for 65 minutes. Who says inter-conference games are boring?