So often over the last several seasons, strange things have happened -- strange winning things -- when the New York Islanders meet the Detroit Red Wings. So it went Monday night, where this time the Isles did not ride luck, but rather a good, 60-minute effort in dispatching their new conference mates.
They did that strange recent thing where the defense kept chances down and the forwards used their depth -- even the fourth line -- to shorten time in their own zone and spend more in the opponents'. The impressive play all paid off in the first period, with one counterattack goal and two off the forecheck in quick succession.
Kyle Okposo converted the former, tapping in on a two-on-one led by John Tavares. Michael Grabner and Casey Cizkias cashed in on the latter, each from the low slot after passes from the corner. The fourth line did well and in sync to cancel an icing on their goal (something the Isles, including Grabner) did a few times on this night.
The Joe Louis [gloriously unsponsored] Arena fans' booing at the final horn seemed better, and were perhaps foreshadowed by the Red Wings icing the puck multiple times in the first few shifts. Once those early whistles stopped, the Isles went to work and getting production from three of their four lines.
Even better: They never blew it.
Up 3-0 for more than 40 minutes, the Islanders had a few chances to turn it into a laugher -- Casey Cizikas forced it toward Matt Martin on a two-on-one here, John Tavares hit the post on a solo break-in there -- but for the most part the game never looked much like moving off that first-period scoreline.
The Red Wings had, by some accounts, only four scoring chances through two periods, and luck didn't smile on them in the third period when they finally made a push. A couple of posts, one late limp power play -- the first penalty of the game, called on Evgeni Nabokov -- and that was it.
All very strange and unexpected. All a nice Christmas surprise for Isles fans, except that it feels like getting a free summer trip after being told you probably won't live past March.
This and That
- Calvin de Haan continues to impress. It's his gap control, his smart stick at the blueline, that anticipates well and prevents smooth carry-ins. Perhaps a reason why early data on him has a lot of dump-ins by opponents?
- He and Thomas Hickey have similar "hard to gain territory when you don't get the puck" approaches to making opponents suffer.
- As mentioned, the defense as a whole -- including the forwards -- was pretty solid most of the night, with the Isles outshot 23-19 overall. Even the times where the Isles were hemmed in for uncomfortable need-a-change stretches, they played generally contained rather than going into fire drill mode (also known as "let's have five guys sit on top of Nabokov" mode).
- Who knows whether that would have sustained if the game were close at the end like it was against Tampa Bay, when they perfected that move, but it is what it is: The Isles shut out the Wings in Detroit, and Nabby only had to make a handful of really good saves to earn his part of it.
- Of course, the Wings have just six wins in 22 tries on home ice this season, so if you believe in any of that, then the Isles ought to have this.
- Before Nabokov's late penalty, the refs had laughably put their whistles away all night. I imagine that's easier to do when two teams like the Isles and Wings get together, and on the night before a holiday break no less. Missed/blown calls were probably roughly even, and more importantly, things didn't escalate with the loose standards.
Well, the NHL is off until Friday and the Isles are off until Saturday, so all of us at LHH a great holiday week. But we'll still be adding content here in the meantime because we know you'd rather read and debate things about a bad team rather than see your family.
Merry Christmas! Etc. Thanks for making this fun, even when the on-ice product isn't.