Ask not for whom the post rings; this afternoon it rang for Kevin Poulin.
Clinging to a one-goal lead in the third period with the St. Louis Blues pouring on the pressure, Poulin benefited from two memorable posts (well, technically three) before the Blues finally tied at 3-3 with 27 seconds remaining in regulation. Though the Isles played a good overall game, the last half of the third period looked like they had woken a sleeping giant, forcing Poulin to scramble left, right, up and down to delay the inevitable for almost long enough.
One wonders how things would've proceeded if the Blues had tied the game any earlier. In the end, the game ended in the Blues' favor via the breakaway drill, Kevin Shattenkirk converting the Blues' third shootout attempt.
It looked like an Islanders overtime win minutes earlier when Thomas Vanek briefly had a goal on an Islanders 4-on-3 power play, but the NHL war room in its infinite wisdom determined Vanek kicked it in. (He was in the crease, and before that he clearly played the puck with his skate, but on the actual goal his feet were moving thanks to being pushed by Alex Steen. The puck squeezed off Jaroslav Halak's pad and in. As we've seen way too often, they might as well do a coin flip on these calls.)
Leads are Made to be Broken
The Islanders had jumped the Blues in the first period with good early pressure, resulting in two goals from the top line. The first by Thomas Vanek came on a sweet upstairs shot, the second by Kyle Okposo came after a great reverse behind the net, followed by simply jamming away against Jaroslav Halak and Barret Jackman at the doorstep.
However, a 2-0 lead in an Islanders game -- for either team these days -- means a tie game and general drama is sure to follow. Vladimir Tarasenko struck back, twice, with two lasers from the top of the slot which neither Kevin Poulin nor his defensemen (Matt Donovan in the first period, Andrew MacDonald in the second) did enough to stop.
After a decent first half to the third period with the Islanders pushing their forecheck and getting some scoring chances, the Isles failed to get the insurance goal and then began tempting fate. The posts only helped them for so long -- most notably TJ Oshie's shot that rang off both of them as it traveled the line -- before Oshie made no mistake on a shot past Matt Martin and Poulin with 27 seconds left in regulation.
Bring on OT, controversy, and skills drills.
Notes in the Aftermath
- Alexander Steen's golden opportunity midway through the third was the totality of the Kevin Poulin Experience: Initial save placed to an ugly rebound area, but Poulin used acrobatics to dive across and stop it with his paddle, then needed the opposite post to help ensure his move was a highlight save rather than a goal.
- Tarasenko's second goal epitomized the Andrew MacDonald Experience: Going for the shot block -- he's a lead leader in the category! -- rather than closing down the shooter. I don't know if he screened Poulin, but he didn't help matters.
- However, credit to A-Mac where it's due: We pile on MacDonald here because he's overused, gets outshot constantly, and I'm scared to death of they'll resign him and regret it, but he made a game saving play (heh) after Steen's double post, diving to keep Brenden Morrow from popping it in the empty net.
- Brock Nelson also made a game saver, in OT, keeping David Backes' stick from converting Steen's setup on a broken 2-on-2. Do you know how hard it must be to outmuscle David Backes? Well done, son.
- Another game, another three goals against. Poulin made 32 saves, some of them great (but necessitated by positioning?). He also benefited from some posts (no shame there) and conceded goals on good shots from distance that, taken in totality, nonetheless equate to the usual "three goals are not enough" scenario the Isles face.
- Why so fourth? Another familiar theme: Cal Clutterbuck and Brock Nelson are so effective, it's a shame they get fourth-line minutes. The Cizikas line had a great play on Martin's goal and did some good defensive work, but I'd still prefer those two lines usage be swapped.
This Will Win You Fans on Long Island, Not in the NHL Office
Vanek on overturned goal: "I don’t know if it’s because who we are. I think if that’s Pitt. or one of those top teams, it’s maybe a goal."— Brett Cyrgalis (@BrettCyrgalis) January 25, 2014
This one was another "the Isles can't hold leads" scenario, though that seems more a personnel (goalies, defense) issue than a "No one ever thought to hold a lead before!" issue like the nonstop angst of the fanbase would indicate. They have blown leads in the first, in the second and in the third -- almost like it's not a matter of protecting what they earn, but rather of preventing goals against at any time of the game.
On the other hand, it was the latest example of the team being able to put a better opponent on its heels -- which makes things both entertaining and frustrating when it doesn't work out.
So why couldn't they finish them? Either you believe they lack something innate inside them (heart! grit! killer mentality!), their approach is all wrong (score more goals! not less! why does Capuano tell them to allow goals after scoring them?!), or maybe they lack the personnel to keep the odds (i.e. the shots and possession) rolling in their favor for a full 60 minutes.
And after 60 minutes? That's for the league to decide.
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