So we got our gloves off, met, smiled, and then...
Despite how it looked on the MSG/Versus feed, apparently by his post-game comments Brent Johnson was all too happy to take on Rick DiPietro from 200 feet away in response to DiPietro initiating a collision with Matt Cooke in garbage time. (Not that Cooke needs any help running goalies; he ran DiPietro three times last game.) But who was the more eager partner doesn't really matter. DiPietro clearly welcomed "Big" Johnson's visit, smiling throughout, even after Johnson sat him down with one punch.
Still, if you're going to accept your SportsCenter moment, best be prepared to put up a better fight than that. And if you're going to use garbage time to air your grievances about cheap moments in the game just played (or in Cooke's case, surely a laundry list of offenses that goes back years), you need to go all the way. (As the father of LHH contributor Keith said: "If you're gonna be a d*ck, be a BIG one.")
A really bizarre early double-minor call on Zenon Konopka, which the Pens cashed in for a powerplay goal, was more random officiating justice. But the story of the game was another slow Islanders start, an 0-for-5 powerplay performance, and the Islanders failure to defend themselves before the final minute. Oh, and also the DiPietro TKO, which will sadly enter the annals of ridicule attached to this franchise and to the player himself. Fitting that Versus then turned to the studio for post-game analysis from...Mike Milbury.
The Islanders didn't do a lot of standing up for themselves to respond to the Penguins' on-the-edge physicality. It didn't help that when they did early on, in response to Maxim Talbot's late hit on Blake Comeau, somehow Konopka walked away with a double-minor while Michael Rupp got only two minutes. (Via Katie Strang: Capuano said official told him Konopka was chattering and was late coming off the bench." Now that's quality officiating.)
I'm sure they were tired of the chippy stuff, but they needed to respond to that tone early on, and decisively. No one called Talbot to task
(unless Rupp stepped in to take the fight in the NHL's silly "match enforcer to enforcer" code) [EDIT: As linked below, apparently Comeau challenged Talbot and Talbot declined to fight.].
While the need to comeback from a 2-0 deficit cuts into your ability to do the funny stuff, blowing your powerplay opportunities does nothing to get the opposition to stop taking liberties.
Goalie Fight: Johnson Challenges, DiPietro Accepts...and Scene
- This powerplay, I mean...it mustered three shots. What can I say?
- DiPietro's goaltending was almost as wanting as his fighting. He had a few big saves, but he faced 22 shots in a low-scoring, low-shooting game, and both goals were regrettable. The powerplay goal, he was very late getting over and gave up a shortside shot -- perhaps he was screened on the play -- by Tyler Kennedy. The second goal he completely cheated on a 2-on-1, as Chris Kunitz's backhand shot slipped in short side with Kunitz faking (and DiPietro expecting) a cross-ice pass. Not that he had support...
- See, 2-0 leads are a chore to erase for this team, but that lead came only 13:10 into the first period. They had the rest of the game to chip away, but the offense came up empty both in goals and in scoring chances that you might hope could become goals on a good night.
- Again, Konopka fought Rupp, but that's just tough guy canceling tough guy. Rupp was running around like usual, but better to take someone like Talbot off -- who both runs around and plays hockey fairly well. On that note...
- ...Kate Strang reports that "Comeau said he asked Talbot to fight but Talbot declined." In the Run Without Repercussions instigator NHL, it takes two to tango.
- On that note: No FIG winner tonight ... because there were no Islanders goals. (And I'm pretty sure no one picked a shutout.)
EDIT: More from Johnson on the context:
"this is the first opportunity I’ve had and being up 3-0 and seeing [Dipietro] come out and hit one of our guys, so not a better opportunity than that and I jumped at it."
"Afterwards guys were excited," he said. "They didn’t know I had that little mean streak in me. It was something I’ve kind of wanted to do for a little while. Maybe a little frustration at some things and it just all came out tonight."
I'm already tired of this game and the DiPietro rehash it inevitably fuels -- one of the most worn-out debates in all of Islanders Country. I've long since resigned myself to DiPietro discussion threads not playing out calmly, so hopefully everyone gets that off their chests in the game thread. I get it -- it brings out the passion and frustration and all that, and the sides of the argument go way beyond just one player. It's just it's one that goes in circles and circles with the same old deal, and in my mind at least, the franchise has been steadily planting the DiPietro Insurance seeds, of which this season is a big one.
For my interpretation of tonight's garbage time circus, honestly I don't much begrudge DiPietro the spirit of whatever moved him, since Cooke has made a habit of running the Isles crease and Johnson was obviously equally willing to play hockey justice at center ice. (And hey, who doesn't enjoy a goalie fight?) Perhaps he was moved by the same old, "We're tired of this and not gonna take it anymore" type of testosterone-aided lament that downtrodden teams often need, or think they need. The proverbial "slumpbuster." Or perhaps it was simply a moment to make sure Cooke -- who was not running DP in this instance, but you never know Cooke's intentions near the crease now do you? -- occasionally faces actual consequences for his never-ending act. Whatever.
The problem is it came out so wrong and played out so poorly. The Cooke collision was awkward (arguably dangerous) and the fight, rightly or wrongly, becomes symbolic. It becomes another LOL moment that distracts from the task at hand. Maybe I'm wrong and tonight was another bonding moment within that room, but it wasn't the kind of sequence that would inspire me. It was off a few keys. Perhaps it's all just a reflection of this young team's growing pains (although DP is not young, his role as he rehabs and is pushed from below is obviously in flux): They know what they want to do, they're just not really sure how to go about doing it. The expressions and high points come out only in fits and starts. And sometimes, they backfire in the time it takes to deliver one punch.