You never know in this game. The Flames come in desperate for points to keep their (until now) realistic playoff hopes alive. They even get a bonus goal from feel-good story Eric Nystrom in front of dozens of family and friends. But overall they get outplayed by the Islanders, who actually delivered an air-tight special teams performance and won for just the second time this season when trailing entering the third period. Go figure.
Special teams? The Islanders killed off five Flames powerplays -- including three in the first for Kyle Okposo (more on that later) -- and their winning goal was a de facto PP tally: Bruno Gervais (he of two goals before tonight) on a one-timer one second after Nigel Dawes' penalty expired. Go figure.
But in better keeping with the Islanders' season narrative, Bruno then became the latest blueline casualty. He left the ice on the shift after his goal and couldn't come out for the three-stars announcement. Update: Day-to-day with groin strain. The Sound Tigers have already done some roster replenishing, so if the Islanders need to dip down there for another injury replacement, they'll be finishing out the season with a blueline fit for the ECHL. Get me a college free agent right quick!
This and That
- Impossible to know how much the chin hardware and rehab has affected him, but Jack Hillen has not really been the same since returning from the Ovechkin puck to the face. He's hardly been awful -- he blocked five shots tonight -- but his offensive side hasn't returned yet. He made some solid defensive plays tonight though, including while protecting the lead late.
- Kyle Okposo took six minutes in penalties in the first, including four minutes at once, the second apparently for complaining about what was an absolutely incompetent call by Kevin Pollack. What's worse, Okposo did not even appear to be giving him too much lip (unless we missed it during the commercial cut), so I don't know why a calm customer like KO had to serve an extra two. Bollocks.
- At the end of a long shift with the Flames' goalie pulled, Kyle Okposo made a smart, soft clear banking the puck off the boards to get it to carry to the Flames zone without garnering icing. That kind of play is Hockey 101, but it's important to do that when you're exhausted, mentally fatigued, with the game on the line. The Isles don't always do that, but their play during crunch time was smart. Bend, don't break.
- For seeing only 23 shots, Martin Biron had one of his stronger games of the season. Very square, good rebound control, calm in traffic. And bonus: The team actually gave him a small gesture of goal support!
- Mark Flood had an okay debut. He was minus-2 with some tough luck: Nigel Dawes -- a useful guy I always appreciated as a Ranger -- made a sweet timing play cutting in front of Flood to deflect the puck over Biron's shoulder; Nystrom's goal came after Jamal Mayers made a great second-effort diving sweep to feed Nystrom from behind the net.
- Matt Mo! Goal #27 right where most of his are scored: In front of the net. That was huge, tying the game in the first minute of the third. Trent Hunter got his 10th to open scoring from virtually the same spot.
- Cheers to new dads Jon Sim and Martin Biron, whose wives each had babies within the last 36 hours and who each delivered performances to do their youngest kids proud.
- The Coliseum ice was awful and gave the Flames two breakaways, one when the ice gobbled the puck on Mark Streit, the other on Dylan Reese (when Nystrom took the gift but couldn't convert his backhand). The ice also nearly produced a Vesa, Part II on a long clear on poor Miikka Kiprusoff.
With between 8 and 9 games left, 23rd place (Rangers, 75) and 28th place (Islanders, 70) are separated by five points. The Leafs kept pace with a win to remain four points behind in 29th. So the Bruins, who blew it against Tampa Bay, enabling the Lightning to remain two points ahead of the Isles, at least have that draft luck to look forward to.
Nystrom the Younger: Ready to Return from Western Tour?
The "Boy, Nystrom would make a great third/fourth liner for us" campaign has already begun. In some respects, it began way back when he was drafted 10th overall in 2002, although the expectations then were a little higher.
But it does make sense: The pending unrestricted free agent is a great "glue" guy, he does have the genes and demeanor that would make people feel warm and fuzzy about Islanders tickets, and he is home-grown. (Why, he even loves the facility! ... though some players understandably prefer not to work under the pressure and hangers-on of home.) What's more, the Islanders can probably afford to pay him more -- and would reap a better return -- than most teams, since most teams have to worry about the salary cap rather than the salary floor, and since most teams cannot count on an attention boost thanks to the crew of locals who actually know Nystrom or revere his father.
And the Flames, well the Flames are a team that does need to worry about the cap, even if their GM sometimes doesn't act like he knows that.
It's important to realize that Nystrom is just a bottom-six forward, though. He's not his father -- but the beauty is he wouldn't have to be his father. It could have been different: If the Isles had selected him 10th overall, he might now be considered a disappointment thanks to the long shadow of 7:11, May 24, 1980 (and everything before and afterward). But today, as a known quantity, Nystrom The Younger could just excel at being himself, which is an effective role player that a lot of people would be thrilled to have around.
For perspective, here's one Flames fan reacting to a reporter's informal (online chat) suggestion that Nystrom get a multi-year deal between $1.2 million and $2 million per:
Look, I like Eric Nystrom just fine as a guy who can fit a spot between the 10th and 14th position on a roster. The contract that Down would give out would be more than Glencross or Moss is getting, and there isn't any reason to make that sort of move. If he gets a nickel more than Dawes' 850K per year, that would be a very poor deal, IMO. I'm hoping that that number was just spit-balling by a reporter as opposed to any working knowledge of potential negotiations.
See? The Flames have to worry about such things. We have to worry about fielding a capable fourth line, period. And that salary cap floor thing.
In any case, it's just a thought. The Islanders have far more important decisions this offseason. But if Garth Snow didn't at least put in a call...
Sticking with the theme, a good quote from Tom Liodice's recap at the official site:
"I'm sure in a million years he (Bobby Nystrom) never thought his son would play in the NHL and skating at the same arena that he did. I think this is a pretty proud moment for him. Too bad we couldn't come out on top because it would made it a really great night."
Nah, it was still a great night.