The New York Islanders gave up the first goal of the game and also coughed up a two-goal lead -- ills that are familiar to angst-ridden fans who are quick to think only their team's problems stink. But in a revision to the "here we go again" script, the Isles built that lead right back and then some as they dispatched the Montreal Canadiens with two three-goal periods for a 6-3 win that was closer than the final score showed.
That final line reflected a little bit of everything Tuesday night at Nassau Coliseum, with goals coming from the usual suspects (Moulson, Tavares, Grabner) as well as from the pluggers who got a rare moment in the spotlight (Martin, Martinek, McDonald).
The win only helps the Isles keep pace (22 points) in the East's ugly mediocre bubble, though interestingly there is now a logjam of flawed teams in the Atlantic with New Jersey in a tailspin (losing tonight, still at 25 points) and the Smurfs and Flyers leaping each other for the space in between.
First Period: And things had started so well...
The first-period shots and score didn't show it, but the Islanders had an uncharacteristic strong start to this game, rolling lines with each generating scoring chances. It was like the much-debated line combos made sense.
As luck would have it, that start was spoiled by a collective mistake, Radek Martinek getting pushed off the puck on a retrieval in the corner to the left of Evgeni Nabokov, Thomas Hickey vacating the front of the net to help after the puck had caromed away from that battle, and Nabokov caught unaware that the puck had moved on to his right. Alex Galchenyuk retrieved the carom no one else saw and calmly fed Tomas Plekanec alone in front for an easy tap-in.
The Isles would end up outshot 9-6 and outscored 1-0 on the period, but it was actually an evenly played period, with both teams' speed on display and their goaltending not tested all that much.
The second period likewise opened well, only this time it produced results. Frans Nielsen drew an early powerplay by making a move around Alexei Emelin, and special teams would feature prominently during the middle frame. With John Tavares off the ice and fuming from a collision, the Isles regrouped and scored without him. Matt Moulson did the deed, burying a Mark Streit pass as if it was Tavares feeding him. It was the first time Moulson had scored without Tavares on the ice since November 2011 -- but it was clear from the finish that the man is a sniper no matter who is serving the helpers.
Later, the powerplay's lowest point was during a 5-on-3, where the Islanders maddeningly stood still rather than moved their feet. Nothing is easier for a three-man PK triangle than when they are allowed to kill without moving around, and the Isles obliged. But after that first penalty to Ryan White expired and returned things to 5-on-4, a hybrid remaining unit saw Matt Martin bury a pass from Brad Boyes.
Then the Isles administered what teams so often administer to them: Another goal within a minute. This time it was Michael Grabner on the doorstep, lifting a centering feed from Hickey past Carey Price for his ninth of the season, linemates be damned.
The H*bs [trademark protection] were far more threatening on their own 5-on-3 (the first call on Andrew MacDonald was sketchy and should have been coincidental with Brian Gionta, the second call was obvious on Mark Streit), and though time expired on the 5-on-3, it was by mere milliseconds before P.K. Subban's shot went in to make it 3-2.
The end of the period would see a cruel turn of events: Frans Nielsen hit the crossbar on a 2-on-1, and Brad Boyes shanked a rolling puck wide off a turnover feed from Tavares. Then Tavares was called for goalie interference on an inadvertent and pretty weak contact with Price. The Canadiens would get a couple chances off nice interference plays on the ensuing faceoffs before the period expired.
Third Period: Sadness, then another 3-goal splurge
The Isles survived the rest of that penalty kill, but they wouldn't survive the next one after a bad change with Matt Martin and
David Ullstrom [edit: Actually Grabner, not Ullström; the announcers had it wrong] led to a too many men on the ice call. One bad bounce ended a clearing attempt and kept the Isles in their zone, and Gionta eluded Joe Finley and Mark Streit's attention to place a soft rebound past Nabokov that tied it with 14 minutes to go.
That sour feeling didn't last long though, as Radek Martinek notched his first goal as an Islander since a late March 2011 rout of the Smurfs. Frans Nielsen was in front to provide a distraction, but Price just flat out missed it with his blocker, perhaps anticipating a deflection as the puck instead slipped high inside the near post.
After a few hairy moments over the next 10 minutes, Tavares would seal things by poking a smart Brad Boyes feed past Price's attempted poke check. Colin McDonald then tied a bow on things with an empty net conversion on a selfless feed from Matt Martin, which came from a smart distribution in the neutral zone from Casey Cizikas.
Another game with three goals against, but for once, a victory that was comfortable by the end. It's another game night in the NHL that could have gone either way, so we won't be apologizing for the Islanders coming out on the good end this time.
- The Isles are the first team to beat the Canadiens in regulation in the last 12 games. That should count for something...
- ...and it's always fun to send the horde of visiting Canadiens fans back home with a loss, particularly if you've been on the wrong side of an encounter with an obnoxious one or six.
- If you had the under on 10:00 for Michael Grabner's even strength TOI, you win. He clocked in at 9:58, with a total of 12:21 overall including PK time.
- Caught on the broadcast, and concluded by those with eyes there, the MSG cameras picked up Nabokov skating off the ice after the win saying, "Very questionable today. Very questionable," to what was almost certainly the officiating crew. I didn't think the Isles got jobbed -- and powerplays were basically even -- but I thought the calls and non-calls on both sides were an episode of randomly applied standards. It's fun to give it to the officials in a win though.
- Circus highlight of the night: Casey Cizikas dumping Alex Galchenyuk heels over head into the Isles bench. No harm, no foul, no hard feelings.
- I'm not sure what the scoring chance tallies would show, but toss the powerplay-infused push aside and the second period actually looked weaker than the first. The Islanders' first several even strength shifts of the game were probably their best uninterrupted string.
- You kind of forget that Tomas Kaberle is still playing, don't you?
- Another quietly nice game tonight by Brad Boyes, with two assists.
- Refreshing dose of honesty: Hickey has all three of his career points against Montreal. You know there's nothing to that, but they ask him anyway. So then: "It's nothing to do with them. I don't even really think its my play. You know I've played better games than that but you don't get the points or bounces. You take them when they come." NO, MR. HICKEY. THIS IS THE INTERNET. WE MAKE GRAND CONCLUSIONS BASED ON SINGLE-GAME SAMPLES, AND WE STAND BY THEM.
- I trust you already heart Casey Cizikas, but tonight was another reason to heart the kid, yes?
- Pretty much all of Isles nation was hoping Radek Martinek would reprise his rookie year first star by circling the rink after they gave him the nod tonight. His interview responses were satisfyingly Radek though: "Just keep shooting, and shooting, and shooting ... Simple game, good things happen."
Cliched Summation of the Night
From now on (when we're so inclined), we're going to add a broadcast- or online-yammering-level cliche to sum up the key(s) to a victory or loss. Tonight's hybrid cliche:
The Isles won because they outhit the Canadiens. But they nearly lost because they lack a vocal captain.
Next up: Hosting the Rangers Thursday. Marc Staal took aa scary puck to the face tonight, so hope it's not severe, but he could very well be out for that matchup. (And obviously, this was written early, so consider that if you read this after fuller updates have been issued.)