For the second time in a week, the East's two possessors of strange second-half surges came together and the Devils left with two points, the Islanders with one. I doubt many bubble teams are worried about the Islanders catching them from what is now 9 points behind (give or take). But the results of these two meetings do show how your rivals -- all your rivals -- can rack up points in a hurry in the NHL's three-point game regime. Though it took extra time again, tonight may be more significant since New Jersey picked up another victory from open play, rather than via the shootout that is now a handicap in standings tiebreakers.
Of course, tonight was a little different from Sunday in another way: The Devils controlled play early and outshot the Isles throughout, which was amplified by a stark difference in powerplay time. New Jersey still outshot the Isles 24-13 at even strength, but on top of that they spent 8:11 on the powerplay (five PPs total). The Islanders had 11 seconds. The Islanders' final penalty, to Travis Hamonic was accompanied by a stunning 10-minute misconduct to Frans Nielsen at 11:33 of the third.
So New Jersey controlled the majority of play regardless, but any time you have Stephane Auger in a game, you know you're at risk of comedy (and tragedy). That's not really even my opinion -- it's pretty much just reality. Still Jack Capuano was none too pleased by the disparity, and he chose tonight to cash in one of his Coach Has Had Enough with Poor Officiating cards. Coaches only get a couple of those per season:
"We got no respect tonight. Maybe if we win games, we'll get it. Maybe it's that we have a young coaching staff and they've got.an older coaching staff. Maybe it's their players--their veteran guys versus our non-veteran guys. I have no idea."
>>Jack Capuano, via Newsday's Katie Strang's tweets @KatieStrangNYI
Further, in Newsday:
"There's two teams battling there. [The Devils] won the game in overtime [Friday] night and they got all the calls Saturday," Capuano said. "It was a one-sided game. I don't comment too much on the officiating, but you've got to let the players decide the game, especially with a game of this magnitude."
Normally I would say those could be fineable words right there. But since it's the Islanders, I'd all but guarantee it. It's true though: Capuano doesn't often comment on officiating, so he's allowed the periodic venting.
Regardless, does it shock you to hear an NHL game happened and a coach was absolutely stunned by the officiating performance of Stephane Auger (and tonight's partner)? If you pay any attention to NHL officials -- who the league has for a decade attempted to obscure by using numbers rather than nameplates -- then no. It's like getting a shady or incompetent repairman. Maybe things will go alright, but sometimes it will go very badly. Moving on...
Ironically, despite the disparity, the scoring on Devils powerplays was even at one goal apiece. Well, technically it was 1-0 for the Isles, as the Devils didn't have an official powerplay goal. But David Clarkson's tying goal came just seconds after Jack Hillen's penalty expired, a direct result of the 5-on-4 situation.
On the other side, there were three shorthanded chances for Michael Grabner, and one breathtaking shorty by Blake Comeau to give the Islanders their fourth 20-goal scorer. Cheers to that kid for another strong game and one helluva move.
NEW: Capuanos Comments to Deb Placey, MSG
Notes of Resignation
- Are the Islanders a counterattack team? The number of times they use their speed and the number of shorthanded chances they get -- also dependent on speed -- start to hint at where teams should fear them. It was how they scored once tonight and how they almost got an insurance goal (Martin Brodeur denying Michael Grabner). It was also how Grabner got yet another chance, when Kyle Okposo simply pitched the puck from his own zone to center ice where a speeding Grabner outraced two Devils for a shot on goal.
- How much of a tool is Adam Mair, do you reckon? He fought Micheal Haley, and when Mair fell under a hail of punches, Haley stopped throwing punches. But Mair got back up and -- with the linesman still holding Haley's only free hand -- Mair re-opened the engagement with another big swing. So Haley tagged him with another. Then when both fell to the ice, Mair kept punching. I gave up on any sense of a "Code" earlier this week, so the new me says: Whatever. But that sequence did not flatter Mair. Maybe off camera Haley had given him a reason to get dirty. But that's the sort of thing you hear enforcers far and wide say is a no-no. Naturally, Chico's version was "You can't keep a good man down!"
- Momentum Department: The Clarkson goal was preceded by Brodeur stopping Grabner shorthanded again, a pivotal sequence in retrospect.
- The Little Things Department: Comeau's backhand deke and his move to cut across the "D" were both great. (I say "D" because the Devils had no actual defensemen on the ice.) He did benefit from one of the "D-men" being forward Brian Rolston. He also benefited from the smart play by Hillen to rush the net and take the other Devil, Travis Zajac, with him and out of the play. That opened up the front of the net for Comeau, who made Rolston look rather silly and then outwaited Brodeur, slipping it in from the far side after Brodeur "rolled over," to quote Chico.
- Our Favorite Cuban: Al Montoya gave up a bad goal from behind the net right off the bat -- he probably counted on Bruno Gervais doing a surer job of blocking out Jacob Josefson -- but otherwise, Montoya was a primary reason this game stayed close and made it to OT. The tying goal was on a rebound scramble against a tired PK unit after the penalty expired. The winner was a fine Anssi Salmela shot high under the bar.
Frans Nielsen, New Era Thug: I don't know what to say about Nielsen's 10-minute misconduct other than Instant Auger's Gonna Get Ya. (Or maybe it was Lee; since they don't feel like working a full game, I don't feel I need to bother looking it up.) It took Nielsen off for the rest of the game including OT. Apparently the thing that set Nielsen off was Clarkson "chirping" Capuano. If Nielsen deserved it, poor form on him. If he didn't, then business as usual. This wasn't the first time NHL officials decided to remove an important Islander for 10 minutes-plus without deigning to explain the call to the Islanders bench. In that context, I fully understand Capuano's frustration about basic respect.
- Insane Tippage: John Tavares, who won the faceoff, then tipped Andrew MacDonald's blast by Martin Brodeur. Impressive. JT now has 25 goals and 32 assists in 66 games, bettering his 24 goals and 30 assists in 82 games of his rookie year. (Matt Duchene, if you're an Avs fan constantly kvetching about such things, has 21 and 30 in 66 games.)
Regardless of all that, cheers to the Devils, who finished play six points and four teams away from 8th place. Buffalo lost, and the Rangers are still playing in San Jose (up 2-1 as of this posting). It's been quite a climb.
FIG Winner: By my count at the official FIG thread, two of you chose Comeau, none of whom had Hillen as an assist, so the FIG goes to multiple-winner vrwc, who picked the time of 12:44, which was closer to the actual time of 21:13. UPDATE: Through a momentous episode of LHH member diplomacy, vrwc offers his "win" to KO21, who had the right guy selected (plus one correct assist) but whose formatting nearly DQ'd him. I'll clarify instructions next game.
Meanwhile, the Islanders have played 70 games. Seventy! This season is fast winding down, with just 12 games left. I'm gonna miss it when it's done, in no small thanks to pretty much everything since the All Star Break. The Islanders don't just have a nice record in that time, they have a nice run of mostly strong efforts. I expect more of the same against the Rangers Tuesday.