The Islanders and Devils exchanged futile first-period chances, second period powerplay goals, and third-period even-strength "momentum-changing" goals. Then they struck out in OT and went to extra rounds in the shootout. In the breakaway drill to determine the day's third standings point, it went six rounds. Among the notables were John Tavares's failed imitation Danish Backhand of Judgment -- Frans converted his, in accordance with the Danish prophecies -- and Brian Rolston's smooth converted forehand deke part of the difference. Matt Martin's(?!) first-ever shootout attempt was stopped..
There weren't really a ton of chances for either side. If Jack Capuano is employing a quasi-trapping scheme and Jacques Lemaire is Jacques Lemaire, then a 29-22 shot differential (for the Devils) after 65 minutes is not surprising. The Devils were predictably conservative and tight, and the Islanders were careful with Ilya Kovalchuk. liberally matching him with Frans Nielsen's line (nearly 12 minutes against) and the Andrew MacDonald - Travis Hamonic pairing (nearly 14 minutes).
Kovalchuk's goal early in the third came against a combo of Milan Jurcina and Jack Hillen, with a mid-change combo of Zenon Konopka, Justin DiBendetto and Blake Comeau on the ice. But really, it was just a sweet outside shot by Kovy.
Notes from an Illusory Playoff Chase
- That Kovalchuk goal came after the Isles squandered a period-opening powerplay in the third. Big blow there.
- That said, with under four minutes left in regulation the Islanders tied it. It was off a turnover by lower-pair D Mark Fayne, but Blake Comeau did well to pick the puck up and place it by Martin Brodeur far side. And though it was off a fumble, the NHL gives out assists like candy so I'm surprised Hamonic didn't get credited with the assist, since it was his pinch that kept the puck in and sent it into an area that troubled the Devils.
- I guess the big lineup surprise was seeing Jurcina in the lineup, with Mark Katic having been returned to Bridgeport. Jurcina played 15:27 in his first game back and was held off the lone Islanders PK (the Devils scored 0:09 in to that), so I don't know that that's a sign of easing him back in. The Islanders' crazy victorious record with him in the lineup took a hit today, although it was just a shootout loss (which, in terms of meaning, is about as significant as a "Team record when Player X is in the lineup").
- Josh Bailey's PP goal: After receiving the puck on the halfboards from the pointmen (Kyle Okposo and Andrew MacDonald), Bailey sent it down low to P.A. Parenteau, who fed Frans Nielsen in front. That led to a scramble, and Bailey moved in from the boards to pounce on the rebound and convert. Nice play overall, good instincts from Bailey.
- Our daily affirmation: More solid play from Al Montoya, who made 27 saves (plus shootout silliness) and again gave the team a chance to win.
- It seems like teams continually try to take liberties with P.A. Parenteau in post-whistle scrums, and Parenteau continues to respond in a feisty manner. Clearly, the man is not to be fist-f**ed with.
- No fights? But I thought the Isles were goons surviving only by a culture of thuggery. Call me crazy, but I wonder if the hockey media doesn't actually watch this team.
- The Isles had a few chances in OT that got my hopes up. They closed OT nearly giving up an odd-man rush the other way, but Andrew MacDonald, who was the victim of a bouncing puck, does not concede easily. He busted his tail getting back to prevent anything disastrous from coming out of Kovalchuk and Travis Zajac's potential 2-on-1.
- FIG Winner: Goes to Mulligan. Several selected Bailey, no one got the assists right, but he was closets with his time.
- Not related today, but: There was Frans love at nhl.com the other day. There's more Frans love at the official site this weekend.
On his shootout winner, Rolston thought about doing straight-up slapshot, which he's done before. Instead:
"[Al Montoya] was moving really well to the backhand side, so I thought I’d deke and go forehand on him. I just froze him enough and it was a good one to get. Marty was awesome to put us in that position."
The win puts the Devils eight points behind Buffalo, who jumped into eighth place with a win over the Wild. In second place is Boston, which played Saturday night with Milan Lucic in the lineup. If you thought Lucic should be suspended for a crosscheck to the head of an opponent that makes Trevor Gillies look tame, then your name isn't Colin Campbell and you have no business being anywhere near NHL decisions. Silly rabbit, suspensions are for Isles. But shockingly, Don Cherry knows what's up.
If this and two other games with the Devils this month are tests of Capuano's NHL tactical skills against an NHL coaching legend, I'm alright with how Round 1 went. The Devils had the edge in play, but the matchups were pretty straight-forward.
I try not to place too much stock in NHL coaching -- they need to motivate/keep calm players, and they need to do basic tactical things. Capuano has done a variety of things and appears to probe and test his lineup at times with their assignments. He's not crazy, he's not a mad scientist and he's not a tyrant. His approach appears to work just fine for this group right now. After that miserable November, that's plenty good enough.