In a reversal of recent history, the New York Islanders now have three wins in a row over the Carolina Hurricanes, though tonight's 5-2 win was the only one of the three this month where the Canes did not also salvage a regulation point.
With four points tonight (and 53 in 49 games), John Tavares keyed the game's two most important goals: a now-routine sweet assist to open scoring, and a timely finish on the game-winner. He then added two more points on empty net goals, getting the puck up to Kyle Okposo for the first, accepting it from Okposo on the second.
Islanders special teams work was again critical as it provided them with two powerplay goals and one nail-biter penalty kill as the Hurricanes tried to tie it 3-3 midway through the third. Truth be told, the two powerplay goals sandwiched some ugly powerplay work, and the successful PK followed one in which they ran around and conceded the goal that fully erased their 2-0 lead.
Rhett Rakhshani was active and impressive in his season debut (2 shots on goal, 3 additional attempts), as was Kevin Poulin in making 21 saves for his first victory of the season and fifth of his young career. Steve Staios returned to the lineup and rejoined Mark Streit, who didn't look great with his returning partner but whose bigger gaffes came with the man advantage.
First Blood: P.A. Parenteau got things started -- well, maybe John Tavares did -- on an early powerplay. Tavares' rush down the left wing boards was excellent and matched by his pass to Parenteau in the slot. It was no simple finish for Parenteau, who had to aim well to beat Ward glove side.
When it's not a puckhandling gaffe -- and even sometimes when it is -- Ward just forces shooters to make precise shots. Impressive game from him despite allowing three goals.
Paying It Down the NHL Food Chain: The Islanders got the better end of officiating for the game's first two-thirds but nearly blew that advantage with a couple of lifeless, passive powerplays at the end of the first period (with Kyle Okposo coughing up a scoring chance by toying with it at his own blueline) and early in the second period. On their fourth powerplay they returned to competency and notched their second PP goal of the game, Matt Moulson spinning in the slot to score his 23rd.
Jeff Skinner in particular had reasonable complaint in a few instances -- most notably one of his many exchanges with Andrew MacDonald -- but overreacted and sprawled in other instances that make you wonder if he's built a reputation among referees already. Throwing little fits to the ref is not a good long-term policy, particularly as a sophomore.
Ah, but Then Came the Rebound: The calls and bounces started to even up as the Hurricanes got one back when a Matt Moulson shot block caromed right to Brandon Sutter (who delivered a sweet upstairs backhand). Then came a Hurricanes powerplay goal: It happened amid a mad scramble after Kevin Poulin made a good save but was drawn (and picked) outside of the crease. With Islanders collapsing around the empty crease, Tim Brent performed like a man so smooth he needs two first names -- he simply banked it off an Islanders shin guard and into the open net. New game, 2-2.
JT Strikes Back: With the air sucked out of the spirit of Islanders fans if not the team itself, Cam Ward had trouble handling a bouncing dump in that found its way to the non-trapezoid area behind the net. With Ward retreating in No Man's Land, Matt Moulson beat the Canes to the puck in the corner and fed it under Ward's paddle, with a slight touch off the defenseman's skate, to an opportunistic John Tavares. Ward being Ward, he still almost stopped Tavares' shot, which was well placed in the top corner.
Another Grabner Breakaway, Another Rob: Kyle Okposo spun in his own zone before a line change to feed Michael Grabner streaking over the blueline. This time Grabner went straight shot, aiming high but failing to beat Cam Ward, whose glove-side arm rose to make the save.
Howie Gets into this Rant Thing: I don't have a transcript this time, but this night Howie Rose turned his aim at Nassau County, apparently riffing off the Brooklyn exhibition game news from earlier today.
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Despite the deceptive and ENG-inflated final score, this was no authoritative victory by any means against the Isles' roommates in the basement apartment of the Eastern Conference. But it was a game they needed to win, and they put up enough to do so.
Perhaps as important, Rakhshani created enough and worked well enough with Josh Bailey and Matt Martin to justify staying in the lineup and keeping Brian Rolston out of it, or at minimum off that line.
But the Islanders have a few days to tinker before visiting Ottawa Friday. With the AHL on a small All-Star break, three goalies up and an actual healthy scratch at both forward and defense, there is room to keep mixing chemicals and keep fans guessing.