The New York Islanders let the Washington Capitals hang around well into the third period, then accepted the Caps' gift powerplays to run away in the final 10 minutes with a 5-2 win Saturday afternoon at Nassau Coliseum.
This one had a very sleepy start. Doug Weight during the second intermission aptly called it "an NHL afternoon slopfest," and in the early minutes the Isles forced Evgeni Nabokov to make multiple routine yet annoyingly necessary saves as each team refused to assert control despite being given an opening by the opposition.
Against this backdrop, the Islanders would ultimately wrest marginally better control through the first two periods, twice creating one-goal leads and at least exerting some continued pressure to try to get an insurance goal. Repeatedly, that insurance goal never came.
Fortunately for them, the powerplays did.
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Frans Nielsen took advantage of sloppy blueline play by the Capitals, winning a turnover and breaking for a 2-on-1 with Josh Bailey depositing Nielsen's feed past Capitals rookie Philipp Grubauer for Bailey's second goal of the season.
The Capitals got that one back on a powerplay, striking just 38 seconds into their opportunity thanks to a whack around the net that bounced off Travis Hamonic's skate and into the net, continuing a season of such cursed bounces for Hamonic.
Then it was time for a star turn from the "fourth" line -- which happily, in this era where the Isles prospects are starting to emerge, no longer means what it once did. Colin McDonald the journeyman did well to block Alex Ovechkin's neutral zone pass with his skate. That led to Matt Martin and Casey Cizikas each doing quick U-turns, Martin corralling the puck and gaining the blueline, then feeding to Cizikas with speed. Cizikas unleashed a hard, low shot to beat Grubauer stick-side.
Entering the third period with a one-goal lead: No sweat, right? If you're an Isles fan with a certain angst quotient -- which is to say, you're an Islanders fan, period -- then you knew what was coming. The Caps made their push early in the third and had some nice puck movement in the Isles zone. As the Caps changed out defensemen, they maintained pressure and Nicklas Backstrom found space in the high end of the faceoff circle to fire a one-timer past Nabokov.
Then things got weird. A couple of four-minute powerplays were just what the Islanders, smarting after receiving no calls against the Rangers, ordered. The first came via Mike Ribeiro stupidity (a high stick on Tavares that drew Ribeiro's whine), the second through Jeff Schultz's poor luck (a high stick that drew blood on Andrew MacDonald).
John Tavares scored on the back half of the first one, banging a rebound into an open net with what looked like a great release of frustration. That gave the Isles the 3-2 lead.
The Isles also "scored" on the back half of the second double-minor, though it was after Tavares converted early but play continued for quite a while before a stoppage allowed video review. (It continued so long that Matt Moulson depositing an ultimately uncredited goal in the back of the net was what ended it.)
Frans Nielsen iced it old-school style: With a shorthanded goal after he won another turnover and rushed down the ice on a 2-on-1 with PK running mate Michael Grabner. The 2-on-1 was defended well, so Nielsen elected to shoot and had to slip it just inside the near post to give the Isles the three-goal lead.
- Outside of the overall "slop" of the game, a decent unit of six on the Isles blueline with Lubomir Visnovsky back in the lineup. Joe Finley sat in his stead.
- Andrew MacDonald had a painful game. Not thanks to performance, but thanks to a couple of hard hits received, a shot off the heel, and a high stick to the chin. Life as a defenseman is not for the fragile.
- Navigating around three penalty calls (two against the Caps, one against the Isles), the Isles rolled the top two lines with the third and fourth alternately rotating in. Yes, that meant no extra ice time found for Grabner and inquiring Isles fans (8:21, particularly after the Isles spent 6:21 of the third on the powerplay). Before the game Jack Capuano said they need to look for ways to get him more. The third period powerplays pointed how that's going to be tough under their current setup.
- Seriously though, stepping back some: The Islanders are developing a nice problem here at forward: A scoring first line, a "fourth line" that's finally functioning the way you'd like, and figuring out how to use the pieces they have in the middle six. As they sort out what Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey will end up giving them, it's not ideal deployment right now, but there are good problems on the horizon at forward. (On that note, Johan Sundstrom and John Persson are both back healthy in Bridgeport.)
- In the parlance of our times, Okposo is clearly working hahd, though not always smahtest in a hockey way. He's digging down deep and trying to generate chances, but some of them too quickly end up going the other way -- and I think part of the issue is one of tactical approach and chemistry among those three linemates. Nielsen is clearly the Isles' second-best center right now and Michael Grabner is actually generating things with Marty Reasoner, so it's a question of finding away to spread the ice time and matchups around. They haven't found it yet, but overall they've put in some good performances lately.
- Mike Ribeiro is a very talented player who has a reputation of being a bit of a buffoon and fake at times, so karma came a knocking when he was called for a soft high stick on John Tavares, then earned an extra two for pouting and whacking the puck as he pined to the officials. The Islanders got the go-ahead goal during the second of those two minors.
- The best part of the Islanders "phantom" powerplay time during the minute between when Tavares scored and Moulson "scored" to elicit video review was how the Isles handled it: To a man, they appeared to know that Tavares' original shot went in off the back bar, and Tavares raised his arms in celebration, then dropped them in disbelief. But you never know in this game, so it was good to see the Isles not let down and continue to operate as if it never happened, or as if Toronto might still screw up the video review.
- Thankfully, the review was easy and conclusive. Poor Moulson's goal would go unregistered this time.
- Fun to see old Sound Tiger Steve Oleksy getting a chance in the NHL with the Caps, and he was doing what he'd need to do to keep that opportunity: Be a physical pain. He and Matt Martin went at it a few times -- and honestly, he delivered a dangerous low hit on Martin along the boards. The most comical turn was when Martin and his linemate each tried to line up Oleksy at the same time behind the Caps net, only to bounce right off him.
This game always appeared well within the Isles' reach, so it would've been a horrible disappointment if they blew this opportunity. Instead, the powerplay went to work with the chances afforded them, and a comfortable final was reached to close out this seven-game homestand at 3-2-2. Not as good as they'd hoped, but certainly a worthy salvage after they opened it 0-2-1.
With the win, the Isles pull a couple points ahead of Philadelphia and back to NHL .500. Now for a bigger challenge: Completing this back-to-back Sunday night in Pittsburgh.
Game Thread Comment of the Day
Moulson Has to be Like
you gotta be kidding me
Dude, where’s my goal?
Meta Cliche Summation of the Game
From now on (when we're so inclined), we're going to add a completely made-up but hardly unheard-of broadcast- or online-yammering-level cliche to sum up the key(s) to a victory or loss. Tonight's hybrid cliche:
The Islanders won because yesterday they attended graduate courses on learning how to win close games.