The Islanders' 4-2 loss to the Panthers wouldn't have been nearly so close if not for excellent special teams play that kept it close until the final horn. And that's not what you'd expect against a team like the Panthers, who've had trouble scoring at 5-on-5. Three 5-on-5 EV goals (plus an empty-netter) essentially doubled the Panthers' season total.
So what does that tell us about the Islanders' effort?
Their coach has preached one major theme since he took over: Get shots to the net. Yet tonight, just like two nights ago in Tampa Bay, they were allergic to the concept. Just five shots in each of the first two periods -- and only 15 of their 28 total game shots came at even strength.
Thanks to the genius of Mark Streit on the powerplay and Evgeni Nabokov's shot-stopping (disregarding his puck-handling), the Islanders powerplay still had a chance to push this game to OT in the dying minutes.
Game Highlights, of Sorts
Move videos of MSG post-game coverage (Capuano, desk guys, the above video) at this link.
Notes from 0-for-Florida
Special Teams: Special!
The powerplay really was nice. Mark Streit, who somewhat cruelly finished -3 on the night, was the Streit we remember from past seasons in guiding the powerplay and in rushing the puck up ice. Hard to say Brian Rolston's absence was any factor there, when Streit was driving things on his own at the point. But certainly Streit did not have anyone to defer to, and his drives from the point created both goals. And that setup is much more threatening in the umbrella format where Frans Nielsen as the 1st line + 1 guy is allowed to be a passer and roamer rather than a traditional point man the way they sometimes used him last season.
A couple of late powerplays in the third (with some 5-on-3 time) were conducted mostly well with a few hiccups.
The PK also held up pretty well, keeping the Panthers scoreless but likewise that could have gone either way with a different bounce here or there.
Now...about the phases of the game when each team has five skaters:
The Top Six: John Tavares continued to generate offense, but overall his line was underwater like the rest of his teammates. The 2010-11 version of the FNGO Frans Nielsen, Michael Grabner and Kyle Okposo line finally reappeared during the second half of the game and drew the powerplay that enabled the Islanders' second goal. Michael Grabner earned, but failed to convert, his two breakaways.
The Mixed Six: Blake Comeau, re-inserted into the lineup, had a few moments (three hits, one nice chance poke-checked by Jose Theodore) but not nearly enough. Josh Bailey was status quo (1 shot, nothing generated). Matt Martin managed three shots and never floated, but he didn't make himself a fit with that combo.
Of note: The Panthers were rocked by the news of Dale Tallon trading David Booth before the game. While they didn't come out like a team with a jolt to the system (unless you compare tonight versus their previous two ugly games), they did get nice contributions from their lower line guys, with each goal scorer (save for Kris Versteeg, who picked up Nabokov's git) picking up his first of the season.
The Islanders bottom six situation continues to stymie, and I think the reluctance or inability to use Trevor Gillies for a regular shift is one reason. There's no flow there, and Marty Reasoner's underrated offensive abilities go completely untapped when there is a constant shuffle of wingers around him.
It's too bad Nino Niederreiter wasn't healthy from the start of the season, as how -- and if -- he fits into the mix would have cleared up their options.
"They came hard," Capuano said. "I thought we were puck staring a little bit. We didn’t have the urgency and intensity that we needed. The third period, we had 18 shots, but that’s the way we have to play. That was us, and for whatever reason, we didn’t come out of the gate."
Finding out that reason, if it's findable, is Cappy's next task.
Goalie Game: Weird move by the Panthers, pulling Theodore after two periods in a 2-2 game (unless there was an injury). But that Jacob Markstrom, he's going to take care of any crease questions there really soon.
Revisiting Pre-Game Wishes
1. Doubling Nabokov's sample size. Woo!
Yes! Nabokov did well stopping shots. Stay in the net, and we're good.
2. Kyle Okposo to play like K.O. of Spring 2011.
In the second half of the game, yes: The more tenacious KO returned. I hope he stays a while.
3. Blake Comeau to play like a man who just sat two games against his will.
In parts, but not nearly enough.
Another wholly unsatisfying, frustrating trip to Florida; it's like it rained every day of the vacation. The Penguins now beckon; think the team can manage to get up for that?