I make fun of the foolishness and random outcomes of the shootout plenty enough, so I'm not going to complain when the Islanders put in a goalie who has seen plenty of Kris Letang's not-possible-in-regular-play backhand move. But still: That was weird.
Rick DiPietro's season line now reads: 0-0-1, 0.00 GAA, 0:00 TOI. After Evgeni Nabokov made one point possible with 65 minutes and 30 saves, his coach Jack Capuano said he "obviously wasn't feeling well and needed to come out." Nabokov blamed an injury that nagged him in the first period (video of both of them is below).
Rewatching the tape between OT and the shootout, both Nabokov and DiPietro are in good spirits, joking around, and possibly even discussing, "Hey, I'm tired, this is a groin-busting, hip-shanking lark. Wanna play?" As Capuano discusses things with the ref, he gives Nabby and DiPietro the signal and walks away as an excited DiPietro quickly stretches. Weird. Like, goalie weird.
DiPietro indeed stopped Letang's backhand, but his stick check failed on Evgeni Malkin, which is what made the difference for the night's third standings point. Frans Nielsen (forehand surprise), P.A. Parenteau (same ol' speedy forehand) and John Tavares (poke-checked) failed to convert theirs.
As to the open gameplay: An interesting mix of positive and negative signs against a plenty good Penguins team.
The Blake Comeau-Josh Bailey combination, harped on so much in their pointless start to the season, actually generated offense with Brian Rolston. Each member of that line flubbed good scoring chances or had said chances bounce over their stick or off a leg, but it was progress. The third line did not cripple the Islanders on this night.
Neither did the fourth line, which likewise created a dab of pressure, faced a lot of the Penguins' most dangerous line, and produced a goal on Matt Martin's first of the season
Capuano and Nabokov on the Change
Notes from Random Topics
Referees: The officiating was ... interesting. Highlighted by an "unsportsmanlike" call on Blake Comeau while Brooks Orpik got off scot-free, and a Kyle Okposo goaltender interference call after he was blatantly shoved into Marc-Andre Fleury. Oh, and let's not forget when Blake Comeau stole the puck from Fleury behind the net and would have had an easy wraparound into an empty net ... if Fleury had jabbed his skate into Comeau to take him down. (No call.)
But officiating whining out of the way, Nabokov himself had the luck -- or for goalies: The excellent positioning -- of two or three posts hit by the Penguins. And the second period was very nearly a gong show, with the Isles outshot 13-2 and lucky to escape the period with a 1-0 lead. That lead came thanks to another classic Mark Streit waltz down the left wing boards before he set up Frans Nielsen [edit: Streit's pass actually got there through a sweet redirect by Okposo], who tapped in the rebound.
Streit and Steve Staios were also on for the second goal, early in the third, when the fourth line sustained pressure and Staios put an easy shot toward the net which Martin stopped long enough to draw Fleury down and put it past.
These teams have now gone to a shootout so many times, I found it interesting that both their go-to guys were stopped, with Nielsen going to Move B almost out of fear that everyone and their brother knows the backhand is coming.
The Jurcina Anomaly and the Baileau Engima: Is the Jurcina Anomaly so mysterious that it can even breathe life into the Comeau-Bailey combo? Well no, but it's a fun theory. Those two slumping forwards played better, and Milan Jurcina was a welcome sight on the backline, using his body well both in reach and physicality. Corsi/Fenwick-wise, he and Mark Eaton were still the weakest pair, but it was far from the bloodshed we're used to in the seven previous games.
Coughing up the Lead Quickly: So the Isles were a bit lucky to be up 2-0 just 0:45 into the third, and then luck came down hard on them. Nabokov rather clumsily kept a puck alive, handing it to the Penguins at the blueline, who kept the pressure up until Chris Kunitz poked in a freebie. Shortly after came Okposo's bogus call, and a good Jay Pandolfo shot block early on the PK was undermined later by several failures to clear before a beautiful tic-tac-toe play had Malkin and Kunitz setting up James Neal. That goal came 1:43 into the powerplay, and you can see the multi-faceted breakdown before they allowed Malkin & Co. space to work. It really was a beautiful goal on the Pens' part.
Line-Matching and FNGO: So the Martin-Reasoner-Pandolfo line drew the heavy bulk of shifts against the Malkin-Neal line, and while Malkin definitely had his chances I thought the fourth line held up well in that assignment. That meant Nielsen, Michael Grabner and Kyle Okposo had a lot of time against Matt Cooke and Richard Park, and frankly I was disappointed in them tonight. Grabner and Nielsen's PK work was good again -- and Grabner saved a goal on the backcheck and created a half-breakaway for himself in OT -- but I was hoping they'd generate more when not on Malkin Duty. John Tavares' line faced mostly Jordan Staal and Kunitz, with an ebb and flow depending on the period.
So ... three consecutive starts for Nabokov, with his old Sharks coming in Saturday. Riding a good (but not quite winning) hand? Using him before the players who know him best visit? Showcasing? Or just the natural complexity of carrying three goaltenders? Stay tuned...
FIG Time: In our First Islanders Goal chase, a big five-fecta for edavidmorris who nailed the goal, both assists, and came just a few minutes short of the right time. Updated standings are at the bottom here.