What a difference 24 hours makes -- though not quite in the "let's get revenge" burst one might have expected to see. The Islanders still got the first nine shots of the game, aided by some merited powerplays. But they exited the first period outshooting the Rangers 14-4, yet behind in goals 2-0. Henrik Lundqvist shut the door; at the other end, Dwayne Roloson didn't bail out the few early Islanders mistakes. A stark disparity in special teams efficiency (which is always strongly tied to goaltending) completed the story.
There is a nascent body of evidence that suggests playing the same goalie on back-to-back nights is not the best move if you have a viable alternative. But with Roloson's play and his 2-0 record against the Rangers before Thursday, I was happy to accept this night as an exception. I was probably wrong. Live and learn.
I'm not hanging all of this on Roloson by any means. The Islanders had some rough luck, Lundqvist was sound all night long, and the Isles never really got the in-close high shots and rebounds that are required to beat Lundqvist when he's on his game.
But in clear contrast to the previous night at the Garden, Roloson never looked very sharp, and even on non-goals his side-to-side movements were late or misaligned.
The Rangers certainly played better and more spirited. But the final score flattered them -- again, they got good breaks on Roloson, Vinny Prospal narrowly avoided knocking the Isles net off on their first goal, Chris Drury somehow actually scored, and the 5-on-3 call that put the game out of reach was an embarrassing display of officiating.
Still, the sum of all parts earned the Smurfs this win. But Lundqvist's was by far the biggest part, and without him they'd probably be stewing over another display of flaws (outshot in every period, and 37-22 overall) rather than celebrating an easy win. In short, that team's going to be in the dirty section of the standings for a while -- and I wouldn't credit tonight to any magical Tortorella Tirade.
We can only hope there isn't another Bob Gainey waiting by the phone to take their cap mistakes off their hands.
After the Garden victory, statman Eric noted how rare the Islanders' intended task was: They have only swept a back-to-back home-and-home with the Rangers two times in history:
The Isles swept the home in home on November 21/22, 1981 (4-3 and 7-2) and on October 19/20, 2005 (3-2 in a shootout, and 5-4).
(Eric also reported that the win at the Garden was just the second road divisional win of Scott Gordon's tenure. Pretty remarkable, albeit reflective of last year's struggles and (much) tougher divisional opponents.)
Goal Scoring, or Lack Thereof
So we know the Islanders are heavily reliant on John Tavares and Matt Moulson for scoring. When those two don't score -- and without Kyle Okposo, that's more often than with him -- the Isles rely on a balance of uncertain secondary scoring. And often, on a shallow-depth team, that secondary scoring goes dark. Which is why they have 12 goals in their last 7 games.
Nate Thompson's open-net miss was stunning, but that's hardly the problem. Maybe it's reflective of part of the problem, which is that this team is simply offensively snakebit right now. But whether your checking line and PK center is getting a couple goals isn't the make-or-break sign of offensive health: No, that's more to do with whether whoever's on JT/Moulson's wing is contributing, whether Frans Nielsen and Josh Bailey and Kyle Okposo are scoring, and whether a Rob Schremp or a Jeff Tambellini is helping the powerplay tick. Tonight the powerplay looked promising at first, but Lundqvist's play -- that early save on Schremp most of all -- seemed to deflate them, and the unit ended up 0 for 7.
Telling individual stats, for me: Kyle Okposo had six shots, Trent Hunter had seven (and some tough luck), and John Tavares had four. Lundqvist stopped them all.
Or, as Scott Gordon put it:
"You're not going to hear any complaints from my side," he said. "I think it's obvious what it was. The guy with the pads on in the other net was pretty good. At the end of the day, had there been another goalie in the net, we might have won this 6-5."
That's probably a little too nice. Even without Lundqvist in net, the Islanders offense has flaws. But yeah, without him it's a different game.
Andrew MacDonald: Keeper
One guy who was a surprise help to the powerplay was Andrew MacDonald on the second unit. Wow. I've been impressed by this guy's quietly solid defensive play all along, but his confidence on the puck with the extra man was a revelation. He looked like a, heh, "young" Jack Hillen. Just reward, then, that he popped his first NHL goal in from the point later on at even strength. Congratulations to #47, who I continue to hope sticks around a while. I can think of three defensemen I'd scratch before him.
The Bailey Project
Some of us talked a few days ago: How long do you run Josh Bailey out at wing? We figured 5-6 games before you reassess and hopefully move him back, unless Rob Schremp is lighting the world on fire. He's been steadily improving his play on the wing, but I can't help mourning his potential at center, where he can be a bigger part of play (on his good nights, which were few this year). Still, keeping him at the wing for a while shouldn't sabotage him: He's got a level head, and it's not unheard of to put a young center at wing to learn the NHL ropes before being set loose. We'll see how this goes.
Faceoffs: No Home Advantage Tonight
Schremp was 1-6 on faceoffs, Nielsen was 4-10, Tavares was 4-9. They had some losses on the powerplay that didn't help the unit. But Nielsen won a big one that led to MacDonald's goal, and his deflection after a nice combo from Blake Comeau to Andy Sutton was a nice subtle touch, albeit after the game was out of reach.
Ahead: Visit from the Habs
Saturday the long December continues. I hope we don't have to talk about a Rangers hangover. The last two home games, for two completely different reasons, have been lopsided losses. I trust Saturday night will be better.