You might have figured it would be the Islanders' night when Anders Lee scored his first NHL goal on a rather innocuous shot from outside during his fourth NHL shift. But the Isles weren't just fortunate, they were quite good and consistent throughout a 5-2 victory that left them in a playoff position at the end of the night.
Lee's goal was a pick-me-up and the home rink gave him a symbolic turn as second star, but the heavy lifting was done by the other three lines, including two insurance goals from the "slumping" first line in the final two minutes.
Lee felt all the highs and lows of stepping up to the big leagues. His first shift, he knocked Kyle Wellwood off the puck and to the ice just seconds after his shift began. His goal came on safe-and-solid play by him after his linemates worked the puck up ice to him in the neutral zone. During the intermission interview, he said he was "as surprised as anyone" that his shot beat Ondrej Pavelec, but he'll take it.
On his next two shifts, Lee felt the other end. He battled, but ultimately lost, with Paul Postma after Postma rushed the net and picked up the deserted rebound to put it past Poulin to tie it 1-1. Then in the second period, he stuck with Eric Tangradi, but Trangradi drop-passed to a completely uncovered Chris Thorburn, who found Postma pinching again to score from the doorstep.
As is often the case, neither goal was any single player's fault -- Matt Carkner was too zeroed in on his own man on the first goal, Hamonic was too slow to react to Postma on the second.
Overall, Lee demonstrated that he's new to this team and more accustomed to playing the more rangy center position this year. He did more roaming through the center channel than is typical of a winger, but ultimately his instincts were usually good and you could see him adjust mid-play to the positioning of his linemates. The Isles coaches wanted him to trust his instincts, and that was enough for his debut.
The Isles were careful with his icetime, giving him 9:38 and just a few shifts in the third before letting him finish the game out with the Isles enjoying a three-goal lead.
- Hallelujah, the Isles have won again at home. They're up to 7-11-2 on the year at the Coliseum.
- Hallelujah, Matt Moulson broke his scoring slump on a good finish after a perfectly executed 2-on-1 pass from John Tavares late in the third. Moulson really wanted it, registering a game-high 8 shots on goal (plus five more that were either blocked or went wide).
- The goal that tied it at 2-2 came off a nice shift from the third line, with Michael Grabner beautifully touch-deflecting a Mark Streit drive to Colin McDonald, who took advantage of Pavelec going the opposite direction. That Streit guy is okay.
- Frans Nielsen scored what felt like the inevitable go-ahead goal on the powerplay, right after the first PP unit wasted their shift. Streit had sent two drives to the net, one that went wide, but the second (from a nice half-board feed from Andrew MacDonald) which hit a body in front and caromed right to Nielsen, who blasted a slapper into the empty net. Seriously, that Streit guy is okay.
- If it was Streit's last game as an Islanders (we don't guess so, and we hope not so), he went out doing the things for which we remember him best.
- Nielsen after the game: "I loved the way we played the last 10 minutes." Us too. Us too.
- With a 3-2 lead entering the third, it was time for some lockdown first, then the top line's turn to shine. Playing with the lead close and late, Tavares, Moulson and Brad Boyes combined for both Moulson's 2-on-1 conversion and Tavares' empty netter. Was particularly good to see from Moulson, who's been riding tough luck, and Boyes, who opened the game with a maddening series of poor passes that typify Boyes at his slump-iest.
- A crowd of just 11,819 on this Tuesday night, the Isles first home appearance in over a week, but those who were there were loud. By the end, a "We-want-play-offs" chorus rang out -- a sound for sore ears at the storied but aging Nassau Coliseum.
So it was a feel-good night for Lee, who drew the media after the game and entertained fans waiting so long to see the rebuild's prospects to produce fruit. There's more work to be done on his game if they're to use him down the stretch, but the materials look promising.
Meanwhile, in Bridgeport Ryan Strome also scored in his first pro game and in fact earned the first star with a goal and an assist in the Sound Tigers' 4-2 win.
Now in eighth (and tied with the Devils on points for seventh), the Islanders will increasingly face media questions and fan buzz about "playoffs." How they respond will determine their season. So far, so good -- the last few nights have been professional and befitting an average team trying to punch above its level.
They next face another big one for both teams: A trip Thursday to D.C. to face the Capitals, who won tonight and gratefully accepted the Isles' defeat of the Jets to move to within two points of the Southeast leaders.