The New York Islanders had the run of play on the Minnesota Wild for two periods (shots: 24-9 at that point) but only had one goal to show for it, so you knew there could be trouble. Turns out trouble came from an unexpected source, as an evenly played third went the Wild's way thanks to a mistake by the Islanders captain.
After trading chances for much of the third, a passive play-for-OT mood set in for the final minutes, leading ultimately to a shootout where Al Montoya stopped all three and Frans Nielsen's Backhand of Judgment was the only conversion needed.
It was going to be tight with the Islanders entering the third period with that slim 1-0 lead and the Wild yet to show their best, but boy did Mark Streit make it worse. Just an inexplicable pass attempt between his legs in a dangerous area in his own zone, and the Islanders paid for it on the ensuing scramble: Cal Clusterbuck slipped a rebound into an open net after a nice tip by Matt Cullen put Al Montoya on the wrong side of the crease.
Overtime was surprisingly entertaining, in an interconference game sort of way. Teams traded chances, exposing the opening and also the risk that going to 4-on-4 provides. Alas, no satisfying game winner was to be had, so it was off to the breakaway drill in which time slows down and backcheckers are just some nightmare that never comes true.
Much earlier, it was Andrew MacDonald's blast that got the Islanders a 1-0 lead shortly after an Islanders powerplay expired half way through the second period. It followed a flurry of close calls, but was ultimately set up by who? John Tavares, of course, with a deceptive JT-style backhand pass to the point.
Tavares created a few other very close chances for himself as Wild D got caught looking at his other options and let him elude them around the outside. One one memorable play, he turned Marco Scandella around -- and Scandella knocked him to one knee in what in some games might be a penalty* -- but Scandella recovered to make a great stick check at the last possible moment.
*It was actually a refreshing amount of "let them play" officiating, with the refs allowing multiple little pushes go both ways. Each time they let a Wild offense go, I found myself waiting in paranoia for a similar infraction to be called on the Isles. But no: three penalties for the game, total with the extra going to the Wild for too many men and a boarding call on Warren Peters actually being tough luck, as victim MacDonald turned at the last second.
The Islanders were slumping and clearly played like they needed a focused, disciplined effort against an injury-weakened team. They did that for the most part -- Streit's gaffe a notable exception -- and the shootout luck finally went their way.
The Wild looked like an undermanned team with one dangerous line, but they gave their all and made the needed push in the third. Matt Cullen, a tantalizing part of that one line, came close in OT and in the shootout, but struck out.
The Isles, for their part, probably deserved what luck they got. Count this as one of those "due" wins, and their first Bettman Bonus point of the season.
- The top line with P.A. Parenteau and Matt Moulson had a combined 16 shots on goal. Well done, Niklas Backstrom with only one "c."
- I have no idea if Al Montoya bounced back from recent struggles or not, as the Wild didn't test him until the third.
- Kyle Okposo would've been the Islanders' third shootout shooter, but Montoya apparently did not want to see that.
- I liked the Milan Jurcina pairing with Mark Streit. It was refreshing to see Andrew MacDonald back (and with Travis Hamonic). Dylan Reese continued to hold serve and offer the occasional offensive threat, which the Isles frankly need. Mike Mottau was his partner.
- @The Wild were credited with 24 hits, the Islanders with 12, and I am certain that is a faithful and accurate recording of events.@
- The lowest amount of ice time was roughly nine minutes by both Nino Niederreiter and David Ullstrom, though that was probably enabled by the relatively small amount of special teams work on the night. Still, it was fun to see four lines that did not elicit panic or fear from the defensive side.
- Tavares had a whopping 24 minutes.
- Heh, Jared Spurgeon (he played 26:47) was given the third star. Frans Nielsen was given the first star for completing a practice drill. Yeah.
From the MSG coverage page on the official site. He was pleased with coverage, and how the defense engaged in the offense:
As referenced in the preview, the Wild are not a sustainable first-place team, though it's unclear how far they'll fall. (Even if by possession metrics they're 30th, it's tomfoolery to think they'll plummet all the way down.) How far they'll fall and if this run of injuries is the tipping point will be interesting to monitor. Although, having watched the Islanders already play -- and beat(?!) -- them twice this season, I doubt I'll want to. Wake me up in the Spring and tell me how it went in the latest episode of numbers vs. results vs. hockey-is-a-complex-game.
But seriously, with the big head start they had, it'll be fun to see if the Wild can hang on. They have 45 very important points in the bag -- not quite halfway to the promised land, but close -- but that's also just 10 points ahead of ninth place. Will missing the playoffs, if it happens, be seen as a disaster? Or will wherever they land be seen as progress over last season? Again, wake me up in Spring, when we'll be too busy with angst in these here parts to look West.
Next up: Tuesday in Winnipeg. Vengeance! Hamonic Homecoming! Former Thrashers!