With the regular season winding down, I thought it would be fun to pick out the "biggest" goals of the 2013 New York Islanders thus far.
What makes a goal big or important? For some goals it’s obvious: an OT winner or a late 3rd period goal clearly leads to points in the standings. John Tavares’s goal against Carolina on Tuesday night is an obvious case because it resulted in the Isles clinching a playoff spot. Other goals seem important because either at the time or in retrospect the goals seem to create momentum by stopping a string of bad play or leading to a winning streak.
I’m often skeptical of the second category because "momentum" is sometimes just a narrative that sports fans and writers like to construct after the fact to explain a team’s change in play. What causes such changes is hard to pin down but attributing a winning streak to a particular event such as a goal is often dubious. But we’ll count both kinds below.
I also think that some of the most important game play this Islanders season wasn’t a particular goal but rather stretches of strong defensive play that the team really began to exhibit in mid-March.
I first noticed it in the Panther game after the Islander’s depressing three game losing streak that featured repeated blown leads. The Isles began the 3rd period with a 1-0 lead that seemed at the time to be worthless given the team’s inability to finish games. But the team completely shut the Panthers down with an aggressive forecheck that kept the puck in Florida zone for long stretches and defensive play that kept everything away from the dangerous areas. The team would continue this style of play for the remainder of the season.
With that intro, here are my picks for the biggest, bestest goals of the Islanders 2013 regular season. Please vote in the poll at the bottom or make suggestions for goals that I may have missed in comments.
1. Colin McDonald against the New York Rangers, February 14
After a hot start, the Islanders found themselves mired in a 5 game losing streak giving them a record of 4-7-1. The season quickly seemed to be following the pattern of the last two: solid play followed by a stretch of losing that essentially ended their season. And in a shortened season, a losing streak wouldn’t need to be that long for the Isles to begin focusing on Seth Jones and Nathan McKinnon.
The first few minutes of this game against the Rangers confirmed our worst fears: 2 quick goals put the Rangers up 2-0. To give you a taste of the mood in the room, here are some choice nuggets from the game thread (actual identities of commenters have been ommitted):
#firecrappy never seen a worse coach in my life. i’d rather have rex ryan coach this team. that would be quite entertaining actually.
Soooo Can we claim Seth jones now or do we have to wait til June?
The better advice is to sleep till brooklyn You won’t be missing much.
After a can of whup (sp?) ass was opened up on the team by Doug Weight during the 1st intermission, the Isles sent out their 4th line to start the second. Colin McDonald intercepted a bad clear by the Rangers, brought the puck back into the zone, but lost it on a strong check by Ryan Callahan. But the Rangers lost control of the puck and Casey Cizikas managed to win the battle along the boards and sent it to McDonald’s stick who slipped it past Biron, a guy who used to play goal for the Rangers occasionally.
The Isles would ultimately take the lead, give it up and win the game in a shootout. The Islanders would go on to play sort of Jekyll and Hyde hockey over the next month or so until they decided to go all Jekyll (or all Hyde?), ultimately clinching a playoff spot.
2. Thomas Hickey against Montreal, February 21
Despite the good vibes following the win against the Rangers, the Islanders wasted no time getting back to their losing ways. After beating New Jersey, the Isles were clobbered 7-0 at home against the Flyers and then lost again to Ottawa. Next, the Islanders faced off against a first place Montreal team. In a near replay of the Rangers game, Montreal took a quick 2-0 followed by the Isles getting one back in the beginning the second. But the similarities ended there – Montreal scored to extend their lead 3-1. Take it away LHH commentariat:
It is time to clean house....how can you constantly allow the first goal on the first shot, and play the way they are playing
How long until Tavares demands a trade out of this circus I think this is Cappy's last game
now we know why the Canadian writers were trying to tell Jt not to go to the islanders. Gotta feel for the kid. I’m skipping the 2 nd period. Gonna check out devs game. Is ovie still sucking wind ?
Marty Markowitz announces a trade Islanders franchise traded to Kansas City for the Royals and a case of BBQ sauce
The Isles would then mount an impressive comeback with goals by Moulson and Nielsen. And then…Hickey. To quote the recap:
The break came on a nicely executed entry with speed into the Canadiens zone, Tavares pulling up to feed Michael Grabner as Tavares fell down, Grabner offering no hesitation as he hit Hickey with a diagonal pass for the tap-in.
3. Casey Cizikas against the Panthers, March 16
After a month of inconsistent play characterized by short win streaks followed by short losing streaks , and the Islanders found themselves at NHL .500 and only 3 points out of 8th. In the middle of a decent 4-1-1 run, the Isles hoped to continue their solid play against the last place Panthers. After two periods of play, the Isles were up 3-0 and seemed poised to get the win. But Isles quickly gave up 3 goals and found themselves tied. Let’s take you to the LHH Wayback machine:
holy fucking shit what the fuck
Fuck this team I hate this team
@#%@#$%@#$%#!%#$5 this is bullshit!!
And then, with around 7 minutes left, after some nice cycling down low by Aucoin, Cizikas and Colin McDonald, CMac fed Cizikas in front who managed to score with a Panther all over him.
While the goal was huge, it was the kind of goal that seemed bigger at the time then in retrospect. Dominik in the recap put it best:
I don't want to say this was a pivotal point in their season, but the oft-repeated reality is this: The Islanders are hanging around the playoff bubble, with an opportunity to sweep two very beatable teams in Florida and goose their standings total, and here they were having blown a 3-0 lead in the blink of an eye. If they couldn't dig down and conjure whatever they needed to get that second point back...then they don't deserve even tempered playoff-aspiring attention.
The points were huge, but it did not ultimately portend any fundamental shift in the Isles ability to finish off games. The Isles would go on to lose three straight games while blowing leads of various sorts and would once again find the season slipping away with a below .500 record. A good example of why narratives about “momentum” and “turning points” are often illusory.
Take it away once more, O level headed blog master of ours:
Does the fact they diffused their third-period cluster-Avery mean this is a different Islanders team? No. But they won, they dodged a nightmare, they swept a trip to Florida for the first time in ages, and they've leaped ahead of the Rangers in the standings for this night at least. Amen.
4. John Tavares against Washington, March 26
After their three game losing streak, the Islanders managed to beat the Panthers. They then faced Washington, a team that was in the midst of a hot streak that would ultimately lead them from the basement to the top of their division. The Isles took a 2-0 lead but then gave up two weak goals, despite outplaying Washington. But late in the third Matt Moulson was gifted the puck by a confused Mike Green near the Washington net. Moulson to Tavares and the score was 3-2. The win would put the Islanders into a tie for 8th place.
5. John Tavares 2nd Period goal against Philadelphia, March 28
The Islanders would visit Philadelphia in their next game. Philly had already drifted to the bottom of the standings but the memory of the two teams’ previous meeting – a 7-0 shanda at the Coliseum – was fresh in the minds of Islanders fans. After nearly two periods of play, this game seemed poised to result in an inexcusable loss to a bad team.
Philly had a 2-0 lead on some sloppy D and goaltending. Cappy tried mixing up the lines but nothing seemed to be working. With the period about to end, Tavares backhanded the puck toward net (or his linemates) that somehow got through. The Isles would complete the comeback in the 3rd, would give up the lead on a two man advantage and win in the shootout.
One thing to keep in mind regarding JT’s goals against Washington and Philly: with the trade deadline looming and the Isles on the playoff bubble, any series of losses could have conceivably led to Garth deciding to give up on the season and to trade some assets. These wins help put an end to that kind of speculation.
6. Kyle Okposo against Washington, April 4
Coming into the game against Washington, the Isles were in the thick of the playoff race, in a three way tie for 6th with the Rangers and Devils. But then they ran in to Braden Holtby. The Isles thoroughly dominated Washington for most of this game but Holtby was in top form and with Washington taking the lead on an annoying goal with seconds remaining to the 1st period, it seemed like the Isles would come away empty handed.
But with 5 minutes left, the NOB line scored with the kind of play that characterized that line’s performance during the past month or so. Dominik:
[T]heir comeback attempts were rewarded on a beautiful spread-out triangle play by Josh Bailey (pass from the corner) to Frans Nielsen (touch pass from the slot) to Kyle Okposo (low on the left wing side) to tie the game at 1-1 with just a hair under five minutes remaining in regulation.
The Isles would lose in the SO but the point gave them sole possession of 7th place.
7. Josh Bailey against Boston, April 11
The Islanders were on roll, having gone 7-1-1 in their last 9. However, all of these wins came against non-playoff or bubble teams. Boston would present a real test for this team. Although several of their key players were injured, Tuukka Rask was in net. The Islanders scored first, on a goal by Josh Bailey but Boston tied it up in the 2nd period.
At this point of the season, though, the tying goal resulted in no sturm und drang in the comment thread beyond the perfunctory “Hey Brad Boyes please die.” And sure enough, another NOB line goal. Josh Bailey entered the zone on an almost two on one with Kyle Okposo and when his passing lane began to close, he shot the puck and it managed to squeeze past Rask. The Islanders activated their 3rd period chokehold and won the game.
8. John Tavares against Carolina, April 23
It’s funny how expectations change. The Islanders were playing catch up all night in this game. With the Caps beating the Jets we all knew that a measly point would be enough for the Isles to clinch. With the score 3-2 in favor of the Hurricanes as the third period began, I think most fans almost expected the Isles to tie it up. So with a minute left to the game, Moulson sends the puck to Tavares who sends it across the goal crease where it banks off a defensemen's skate (backed by Okposo’s stick and in). Point earned and playoffs clinched with two games to spare.
Please vote below and here's to some bigger goals to come.