For all the talk of the Islanders' bubble candidacy thanks to their recent 6-2-2 run, this was a game they couldn't afford to lose. The Flyers, the Caps? They can afford to lose a game like this because they can make it up over an 82-game season. But the Islanders' margin for error is too thin. So letting the puck slip to the Wild's Owen Nolan all alone in the final 67 seconds of a tie game? Fatal error.
This was the first regulation loss of the year where the game was in their hands, and they let it slip away without even an OT point.
Too many penalties (though I thought Andrew MacDonald's pivotal one was theatrical circumstance). Too many missed shots on Islanders powerplays. An evenly played game (shots: 29-29; faceoffs: 30-27) with each team displaying flaws. But with two goals fueled by unlikely source Jon Sim, the Islanders had a chance to really deflate the struggling Wild.
And in the game's critical moment, with 1:07 left, Blake Comeau had trouble corralling the puck and shied away from a hit to get it out, Bruno Gervais and Mark Streit left too soon leaving Owen Nolan alone behind them, and Martin Biron reached for a pokecheck he couldn't complete, so Nolan's shot slid easily through the five-hole for the game-winner.
Talk about a letdown. As the miles increase, suddenly St. Louis and Toronto look a little more daunting.
Lineups: I suspect you go with Dwayne Roloson in St. Louis, against another of his former teams. But with a loss amid an uneven performance, does someone sit :cough:Comeau: so Jeff Tambellini gets another look? If someone new were scratched, it surely wouldn't be...
Jon Sim, Offensive Key: That's right, Jon Sim made two heads-up take-it-to-the-net offensive plays that created a goal each for him and Josh Bailey. Bailey's was the most impressive, as Sim converted a turnover, drew out of position behind the net and made the sweet feed to Bailey. Another time, Sim forced a point-blank save out of the Wild goalie.
Sympathy: I kind of feel for Kyle Okposo. In front of a bunch of family and friends at home, he had a few chances with the game on his stick and just missed or was just stopped by a very good keeper.
Smooth, Groovy Jack Hillen: Also in front of family and friends, Jack Hillen played just short of 25 minutes (5:42 on the PP) and continued to gracefully rush the puck up the ice like a guy who watched his share of the best defensemen of our era. At one point, a Wild player was on to him and tried to line him up for the highlight-reel open-ice hit, but Hillen shook just enough to avoid disaster...and still advanced the puck. These are good signs, signs that guide the way to my heart.
Special Teams: I actually like how the Islanders responded to the aggressive Wild PK by moving the puck quickly. They almost stole a goal out of it. But no dice. Meanwhile, another 95-second 5-on-3 kill was brilliant, but giving the opponent five powerplays is too much. On the fifth, the Wild finally broke through to tie the game.
Goaltending: Biron made some big saves, particularly on the long 5-on-3. He also let in a bad behind-the-net shot from Nolan get in for the first of Nolan's two goals. Nobody's perfect, but you do notice the soft ones when they happen regularly.
Against a wounded, struggling team, this is a game the Islanders should have won. For the first time all season in that situation, they didn't salvage even a point. A quarter of the way through the year, that's actually not so bad. But the reason it still matters is this is a team that can't afford to be giving points away -- not if they intend to hang around the Eastern bubble.