The power play created the opening and the line of Frans Nielsen, Michael Grabner and Josh Bailey paved the way for slaughter as the New York Islanders cruised past the visiting Phoenix Coyotes in a 6-1 victory in front of a Glendale-limbo-sized crowd at Nassau Coliseum.
Newcomer Peter Regin struck first in the game's opening two minutes, Matt Donovan represented Oklahoma with his first NHL goal, and John Tavares added two goals as Coyotes mistakes combined with Islanders opportunism to give the Isles their fifth standings point in three games.
First Period: 2-0
The visitors wasted no time paying tribute to their hosts. The game began with a montage of Coyotes turnovers, each Islanders shift forcing and accepting gifts until one turned into gold at 1:49 of the first period. Brock Nelson sealed off the left wing of the neutral zone and sent Peter Regin in on a 2-on-1 with Pierre-March Bouchard. Bouchard and his marker each stumbled in the slot, so Regin elected to shoot high glove side on Mike Smith for his first goal as an Islander.
The gift-giving continued when Antoine Vermette took the first faceoff of a Coyotes penalty kill with his hand, drawing a "smothering the puck" penalty to give the Islanders a two-minute two-man advantage.
The Islanders power play went to work with a refreshing competence after the possibly exhausted top unit wasted their 4-on-3 overtime opportunity in the previous game, a shootout loss to the Blue Jackets. Lubomir Visnovsky, Kyle Okposo (on the left point) and Frans Nielsen (on the left wing) zipped passes around to leave John Tavares open for a low-angle one-timer goal from the right wing doorstep. Though they still worked the perimeter and consumed a good 90 seconds of that powerplay, it was a much tighter perimeter with quicker passing and more shot attempts.
Tavares was tagged for an offensive zone hooking penalty late in the first period, but an aggressive Islanders penalty kill led by feisty Casey Cizikas -- then spelled by Michael Grabner and Nielsen -- killed it off without allowing a shot on goal.
Second Period: 3-1 (5-1)
As Butch Goring observed on the TV broadcast, despite the 2-0 lead and multiple Coyotes gifts the Islanders forecheck was having trouble getting in deep and sustaining pressure. Phoenix was not dominating by any means -- a quick save of a redirection was the hardest work Evgeni Nabokov had through the first 30 minutes -- but rather the game was more of a neutral zone slog.
Things looked like they were breaking open when the Islanders power play converted again, this time with Matt Donovan getting his first NHL goal on a blast from the point that trickled through Smith to make it 3-0.
But Phoenix quickly kept it from getting out of hand -- for the moment, anyway -- just 43 seconds later when Martin Hanzal scored with a hard snapshot around Josh Bailey from the high slot. Not long after, Doan nearly made it 3-2 with just under seven minutes left in the second period when he hit the inside of the far post.
But things properly separated into a rout a few minutes afterward, when the bounces continued to favor the Isles. Remember the other day when we discussed good strategic hits that the highlight reel forgets? Josh Bailey and Grabner each executed those in quick succession to win the puck in the left wing corner and set up John Tavares for his second goal of the night. Tavares made a slippery move to open up the shot; his fortune came in the fact his shot floated in after ramping off David Schlemko's stick.
The Islanders continued to pile on when Grabner sent Frans Nielsen breaking over the blueline to make a soft-serve pass to Colin McDonald, who beat Smith low glove side.
Third Period: 1-0 (6-1)
The third period was mostly playing out the string, with Smith mercifully pulled for Thomas Greiss. But the line of Grabner, Nielsen and Josh Bailey combined on a beautiful play so typical of their line which gave each of them three points on the night.
Bailey pitched the puck up ice on one of those "Hey Grabner, fetch!" passes which Grabner caught up with in time to control but not in time to cut to the net for a shot. Instead he took it behind the net to observe options, and his options included a two-headed Bailey-Nielsen monster. Grabner's pass fed Bailey, who touched to Nielsen, who -- as Nielsen is wont to do -- passed up the shot opportunity to set up Bailey for a back-door tap-in.
(Just imagine if Nielsen were a True Second-Line Center!)
Nielsen then engaged in some Dane-on-Czech-on-Dane crime after Hanzal slashed and cross-checked him in a board battle with the game in garbage time. Nielsen turned around with a sweeping two-hand slash, and his countryman Mikkel Boedker intervened to tackle Nielsen to his back in what was probably never going to be an actual fight, but was certainly a declaration of deterrence.
Nielsen's moment of thuggery was best captured like so:
Always feel conflicted about Shane Doan, beloved Canadian media darling, as he often seems to find trouble toeing the line of, ah, legality? And it gets worse when he's frustrated -- which, to be fair, his experiences as franchise cornerstone for a oft-neglected franchise has no doubt generated some frustration. Tonight he put a heavy hit into Andrew MacDonald's numbers in a situation where anyone could recognize that MacDonald was in a dangerous position. Travis Hamonic, unable to reach Doan during the sequence, then gave Mike Ribeiro a health helping of crosschecks to pay Doan's violence forward.
Doan later drew the ire of McDonald when he hit him hard near the stanchion as bother were going off for a line change. McDonald shoved him back, Doan turned around and attempted to take out frustrations in a fight, but the linesman kept anything from happening. The Nielsen-Hanzal-Boedker incident happened a few shifts later.
The alleged attendance of 10,288 appeared downright abysmal for this Tuesday night tilt between two of the league's more dismissed franchises, but the songs from what I assume were "Islanders Army" residents in Section 329 were audible. Keep the fire going, even when most people are watching baseball or finding an alternative to Hooter's or something.
Up next: The Islanders have a tough, quick road trip with games Friday and Saturday in Chicago and Nashville, respectively.
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