A couple of ugly goals allowed, one heli-ugly final minute, zero goal support for Martin Biron, and several (typical) uncalled Chris Pronger infractions: Just another Islanders loss to the Flyers.
The Islanders have now scored 13 5-on-5 goals for Biron in his 15 starts and two mop-up duty appearances. That's not loveless -- that's just plain malice.
The first Flyers goal: Understandably, I don't want Biron to be beat short-side like that. But it was a goal-scorer's cookie-jar placement by Danny Briere. Far worse: Andy Sutton completely took himself out of the play to make a booming hit, leaving Briere open to walk in alone. Far, far, far worse: Sutton's hit attempt completely missed, he ended up colliding with (unintended target) Scott Hartnell, and falling on his ass [first video highlight after the jump]. That is the flip-side of the bargain you get with Sutton; given that outcome, I'd prefer he stick to hit attempts along the boards.
The second Flyers goal: Understandably, I don't want Biron to be beat short-side like that. But it was an inside-the-post shot on another two-on-one, made possible by Jack Hillen's ugly whiff in the Flyers zone. Biron's in a tough spot because of his lack of work; but in his limited appearances I continue to be struck by the short-side goals and by his tendency to end up on his butt in the crease.
Regardless, once again: One goal for your goalie doesn't cut it.
It will be interesting to see how this evolves in the next two months. I've watched too much NHL hockey to believe nothing will change (Biron's goal support will swing the other way, or injury will conspire to give Biron more time, or even DiPietro will return and stir things up.). But how it mutates is anyone's guess.
More Pronger Rant (sorry)
It's funny, you watch Pronger more and more -- and god knows I saw too much of him as a Blue -- and you realize he is as cheap and spineless as Sean Avery, except he fights even less and gets the massive benefit-of-the-doubt that is afforded likely Hall of Fame players. As we touched on briefly during the game thread, it's like they use "old NHL" officiating with him, where you let him get three, four free whacks/spears/high-sticks before they say, "Really, this time I'm gonna call something if you don't stop." What's unexplained is how he's rarely held accountable on the ice, despite what should be a reputation for the dirty given the times he's received a suspension from the random Campbell Wheel of Justice when he does something that makes news.
I said this summer I'd hate him more now that he's in the
Patrick Atlantic Division. That's come true in spades.
Even when I "rooted" for him as a Blue, it always felt dirty -- like defending your abusive uncle who drinks too much because he gave you beer and hockey tickets. Now that he's been to three more NHL teams, I assume this is how many of his new teams' fans feel or felt, but I can't be sure. When he was a Blue -- and this is in the "old" NHL, remember -- I just recall constantly cringing and remarking, "Wow, they let him get away with that?" Except every fifth or sixth time they'd call him, and fans would get on him for taking another undisciplined penalty, and he'd look at the ref in feigned shock. Then I'd wonder if the referees made him what he is precisely because they called it so randomly, giving him this sense of entitlement. Who knows.
Pronger is outstanding with the puck, with the breakout, and with positional defense. But the way he plays in the trenches is almost indefensible in the post-lockout NHL -- except that he largely gets away with it. Therefore it is effective. Tonight I'm thinking of his multiple (uncalled) crosschecks to the neck and head from period one to period three, and I'm searching my brain for a significant player who did similar things with such regularity without having to fight to back it up. If you can think of any, do let me know (I know they were out there, I just can't recall famous ones at the moment -- oh wait: Claude Lemieux! Nice company there. As with Pronger, I know "Turtle" Lemieux had his legion of worshipers, but I found his cheapshot-without-consequence nature patently disgusting. So a few tears shed over winning the Cup didn't help me see his humanity. It's the Cup: Even an engineer would cry like a baby.)
Ah well. This rant is tired, but clearly I still have some Pronger demons to get off my chest. While I'm at it, Briere has bugged me ever since his Phoenix days, though for different reasons.
- Speaking of shady characters, Daniel Carcillo was typical Carcillo, trying to justify his presence. Then Jon Sim got a dive on Carcillo's roughing penalty. Huh.
- Speaking of Sim: He converted on a breakaway. That's right: He converted on a breakaway! Was the key that he had zero time to think, and thus had to go on instinct? Don't know, but he was a good contributor even beyond the goal.
- Speaking of contributors: John Tavares' slump, briefly interrupted by the tap-in goal against Toronto, continues. It's fair to call out how he's been quiet lately. It's also fair to note that a lull during his first NHL season, at age 19, was inevitable. I'm not sure what it is we're witnessing right now -- rookie fatigue/injury/burden of carrying a team at this age -- but it goes into the data bank for further theorizing later on.
On Size, or Lack Thereof
In his post-game presser, Scott Gordon defended Biron's record, noting he's played against teams the Isles don't offensively match up well with. He also repeated that the Flyers are a tough match because of their size:
"That's just something we've got to try to find an answer for."
I don't doubt this -- although clearly several teams have found an answer for the Flyers this year -- and my lord I don't disagree that the Isles need more size. I just wonder how Garth Snow sees this and what his long-term plan is to address it. As noted often this season, pending UFA Andy Sutton represents a chunk of what little physical presence the Islanders have. As noted earlier in this post, Sutton is a double-edged sword. What do do with him this spring -- and how to replace or supplement him this summer -- represents some interesting decisions for Snow.
So this was a largely even-strength game, with even shots throughout, that the Islanders lost thanks to a few 2-on-1s created by mistakes of different forms (a bad hit and a bad pinch). The final minute, when the Isles couldn't get Biron pulled and even drew boos from the home crowd, was embarrassing but also I think a sign of the Flyers playing well.
Once again, Biron was hung out to dry offensively. Once again, the Islanders' December homestand -- touted beforehand by the players themselves as a chance to net significant points -- is slipping away. The NHL's version of quasi-.500 -- they've now 37 points in 40 games -- is likewise drifting. That's good for 13th in the conference right now and 26th overall. But they remain more organized and more entertaining (overall) than last year at this time. All part of the process, along with almost nightly ups and downs.