You weren't worried, were you? I mean 3-0 at the second intermission leaves some room for anxiety, but 4-0 earlier in the third means game, set, match right?
In so many ways, the New York Islanders' 4-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning Monday afternoon was far more interesting than that.
The game started in curious fashion -- well, "start" might be incorrect there: Two fights at the opening faceoff happened while the clock had yet to tick off of 20:00. Opposing announcers debated among themselves who wanted that kind of start more -- Tampa Bay, who started B.J. Crombeen and Pierre-Cedric Labrie and have had poor showings at Nassau Coliseum, or the Islanders who were coming off a sluggish opening night loss but did not dress Eric Boulton. Crombeen went with Matt Martin, Labrie with Joe Finley.
The Islanders got an early but poorly executed powerplay that came after a Frans Nielsen scoring chance (flubbed wide) and generally drove play through the first and second periods. Rewards for that play did not arrive until midway through the second, though, when Michael Grabner scored on a breakaway -- yes, a breakaway -- toward the end of a powerplay on a long pass from Mark Streit.
Goals and Goals and Bounces and Goals
After Matt Moulson went to the locker room for repairs, his temporary replacement Matt Martin looked like he cost the Isles by giving the Lightning a powerplay. Instead, the Isles killed it -- Grabner's interception being critical after Nielsen broke his tick blocking a shot -- and John Tavares fed Martin for a breakaway goal as he came out of the box.
Martin's goal came at 16:23. A minute later, Kyle Okposo used an open John Tavares as a decoy while he finished a shot off the far post to change the tone of the game heading into the second intermission. A deserved 3-0 lead for the Islanders, and as a bonus Keith Aulie threw one crosscheck too many at Colin McDonald to let the Islanders open the third period with another powerplay.
The Islanders couldn't convert on that powerplay, so the anxieties of Islanders fans were still ripe in the air. Fortunately, David Ullstrom finished a sweet give and go with Keith Aucoin from a bad angle over Anders Lindback's shoulder. Safe 4-0 lead, we're on our way now, right?
Not a chance. First came crazy bounces, then came the fire drill. Martin St. Louis got one back after a scramble at the Isles net saw John Tavares clear it right to him. Then another broken play followed a series of kidnergarten-soccer-like bounces before Benoit Pouliot finished to make it 4-2. Neither was pretty, but neither felt like the Islanders were collapsing while hanging on for the win.
Rather, the collapsing came after that, with Steven Stamkos finishing a pretty triangle passing play just 34 seconds after Pouliot's goal. The next several minutes were chaotic, with the Islanders top line and top four defensemen all participants in the mess that could have easily seen an equalizer go past Evgeni Nabokov. The top four were on the ice for all three Lightning goals -- Mark Streit and Brian Strait for the first two, Andrew MacDonald and Travis Hamonic for the third. Stamkos was on about every other shift at this point, and the Islanders were keeping their third pair from seeing more than 15-20 seconds at a time.
Finally, things settled down and Kyle Okposo used pure speed to the outside to create a chance that would have yielded an insurance goal. He made too many moves though, ended up taking the puck behind the net for a wraparound that resulted with his butt sweeping up snow in the corner.
Victor Hedman did well to short-circuit a few Islanders counter-attacks with attempted hip checks that disrupted Ullstrom and Okposo on separate breakouts up the right wing. Aside from the five minutes or so of headless chicken play after the Lightning made it 4-2, play returned to a more level back-and-forth rhythm.
With 2:28 left, old Isles friend Nate Thompson lost too much of Frans Nielsen breaking into the Lightning zone and pulled him down, giving the Isles a late powerplay and yet another chance to get the Isles top line out there. Brian Lee promptly levered Matt Moulson to the ice with his stick, creating a 5-on-3 that would keep the Isles on the powerplay for the rest of regulation.
The Islanders played the powerplay safe, moving the puck around and firing shots while having safety valves at the blueline. With Lindback pulled, the Lightning couldn't gain the zone and Okposo nearly iced it with an empty netter.
Scare survived, first win of the season, game winner provided by the third line, and the Isles are 1-1 heading into the first road trip.
Highlights (when posted)
- Another sharp one for Evgeni Nabokov when tested. He tracked the puck well during the chaos that almost created the tying goal.
- Brad Boyes again made some passes and looks that were encouraging. He also showed good strength along the boards to prevent Lightning clearances on the powerplay.
- Michael Grabner has impressed me the most out of the Islanders in the first two games. He's flying and doing creative things. His breakaway conversion was a nice pullback under a lot of pressure from the defenseman.
- On that note, Martin's finish on the breakaway was superb, releasing inside the post just before the pursuing defenseman could disrupt his shot. Love to see a player use juuuust the right amount of time.
- Keith Aucoin has also earned his time in the first two games. A player like that is not going to get top-six minutes at this point, but secondary powerplay time and little bursts of creativity from the third or fourth line is just fine. One turnover he created on the backcheck single-handedly created a scoring chance and led to sustained pressure when the Lightning should have been breaking out the other way.
- The Matt Carkner/Joe Finley pairing still looks like it could use a more mobile component. Like Thomas Hickey, perhaps?
- Different opponent, but breakouts were much better throughout this one. Many more shorter, quicker passes to build progress out of the Isles half of the ice.
Road trip begins Thursday in Toronto, followed by Friday in Boston.