It was a Russian goaltending duel in the New York Islanders home opener, with Evgeni Nabokov and Sergei Bobrovsky taking turns stopping point blank opportunities in a game that alternately flattered and damned each team. Suffering the reverse fate of their opening-night win over the Devils, the Isles coughed up the lead and lost the shootout bonus point to the Columbus Blue Jacketsafter regulation ended at 2-2.
The Islanders should have left it with a regulation win after grabbing a 2-0 lead by the second intermission, but the Columbus woke up in the third period to force overtime and win the second point via the fourth round of the shootout.
How did the game get there? After a messy and scoreless first period, a length sequence in the second period allowed the Islanders to take control shift by shift, building to a groove that reflects this team at its best. It went like this...
Second Period: How Hockey Games are Won and Lost by Degrees
Fourth Line When Functioning as Designed: Early in the second period, Matt Martin threw a solid in-position check to free the puck in the Columbus right wing corner. Casey Cizikas picked it up, moved toward the net and fed a rushing Colin McDonald ... who shot wide from the slot. Bummer of a result, but nice play by the checkers.
Grabner Don't Stop: The top line followed up that shift with more pressure in the Columbus zone, followed by a great shift from Michael Grabner, Frans Nielsen and Josh Bailey to keep it up and ultimately draw a penalty after Grabner and Bailey simply would not stop unleashing second and third efforts to keep the puck..
You Have Sinned: Lubomir Visnovsky was given no help to retrieve the puck as Columbus cleared early in that ensuing power play. He compounded the issue by chopping the puck up the left wing boards under pressure from Brandon Dubinsky, where Mark Letestu anticipated, beat his man (John Tavares) and sent a dangerous pass to the net that required Evgeni Nabokov to prevent a shorthanded goal.
You Have Made Amends: Yay for happy bounces! Rather than deal with a deflating shortie, the Islanders instead carried up ice and set up the umbrella. Lubomir Visnovsky knocked a one-timer past Bobrovsky from the central point after Frans Nielsen returned his pass from the left wing boards.
You Have Rescued Your Friends: To add to Nabby's role in this sequence, he made a huge toe save on an uncovered James Wisniewski's point-blank opportunity shortly after the Isles took the 1-0 lead.
The New Captain Turns It On: John Tavares had a fine 10 minutes or so after that, which felt like it would inevitably lead to a goal. It did.
A heads-up keep-in on the backhand by Visnovsky found Tavares in the corner. As we've seen him do a silly number of times already before he turned 23 years old, Tavares slipped an immediate behind-the-back pass to runningmate Moulson, who was all alone streaking to the front of the net to make a move and tuck the puck in behind Bobrovsky.
Third Period: How Leads Are Lost by Degrees
How did all that hard work go for naught? Some good goaltending to keep it close, followed by the Blue Jackets taking advantage of a few breakdowns by the Isles.
First off, Bobrovsky is good. The Isles could have put this away early in the third when Michael Grabner created yet another individual break out of nothing, pushing himself through the defense to catch a Nielsen lead pass in time to pull a quick forehand try. Bobrovsky had to move sharply to stop and keep the score at 2-0...
Which was good for them, since the Blue Jackets' first power play would be forthcoming, Travis Hamonic going to the box for high sticking. After a scramble in front of the net, the puck popped loose for Letestu, who beat Nabokov high glove side.
Soon afterward, Columbus tied it up on a broken play made possible by them rushing the net. With Matt Donovan trying to box his man out and down to the ground, Nick Foligno nonetheless reached the puck and scooped it toward Nabokov. A desperately sliding Peter Regin then had the rebound carom off him and past Nabokov.
Things then settled down into a flow befitting a tied game until Lubomir Visnovsky was whistled on a sketchy "holding" call after Dubinsky simply lost his footing while trying to spin and shield the puck from Visnovsky. Lubo was livid on his way to the box, and the Islanders PK -- with Grabner giving the Jackets fits -- was called to work in the final two minutes of regulation.
Referee Paul Devorski then continued to influence the end of the game (after pocketing the whistle for most of the game) by calling Jack Johnson on a "holding" penalty as he sent Andrew MacDonald tumbling into the corner. With that powerplay, the Isles set up multiple chances before the end of regulation, but Bobrovsky was quick to stop Frans Nielsen twice from the slot.
If the power play was threatening in regulation, it was completely inert in overtime. As you so often see in these cases, some of the same guys who emptied the tank at the end of regulation were then too passive with the extra man in OT. Tavares, Okposo, Moulson and Visnovsky held the puck on the perimeter for the final 1:19 and seemed at a loss for ideas on how to penetrate. That failure would cost them and throw the game to the ultimate coin flip.
Shootout: Yada Yada
Shootouts are tiring and, for me at least, their very existence is annoying. But of note, Bobrovsky gloved Frans Nielsen's patented backhand shelf attempt, then Nabokov answered by stopping Artem Anisimov's own backhand.
Matt Moulson was the only Islander to convert for the second night in a row, but this time it was to keep the Isles alive rather than for the winner. After Josh Bailey missed his fourth-round attempt, Cam Atkinson made a great deke to undress Nabokov and seal the win for Columbus in their first-ever Metropolitan Division encounter.
Despite the loss, the Islanders probably did more, better things overall on this night than they did in the shootout win in Newark the night before. Certainly the top line was better, the second line just as dangerous, and the defense not caught running around quite as much. Despite playing on consecutive nights at age 38, Nabokov looked sharper throughout, making big saves during open play (whereas the previous night, his heroic moves were mostly limited to the shootout).
This one had an annoying ending based on a few mistakes after a promising start and a very promising second period, a nice Saturday for tailgating and a packed house left with a deflating ending. But it was not quite like the "collapse and pray" blown leads that haunt Islanders fans' recent memories. The "good version" of the Isles was on display for many stretches, so the fun will be in addressing their lapses.
A chance to open the season perfect (with shootout asterisk) squandered, the Isles will get back to it Tuesday at home versus the Coyotes.