Just an odd night. It started three minutes in when Dan Marouelli made one of the more intelligence-deficient calls I've seen in a while: He penalized Dwayne Roloson for smothering the puck. Even the Penguins announcers -- who spent much of the first period praising the young Islanders -- found that call patently absurd.
The refs didn't stop inserting themselves into the game until the bitter end, but along the way we saw: a Kyle Okposo penalty shot denied by a great Brent Johnson stretch save; a Penguins powerplay come alive with the help of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin; a Richard Park goal that actually wasn't waived off; and Andy Sutton drive Pascal Dupuis into the boards with Dupuis' back turned, resulting in a scary, bloody scene.
Oh, and the Islanders fell behind 4-1, tied it 4-4 with two third-period goals, and -- did I mention the officiating? -- ultimately fell to a bad-angle Evgeni Malkin PP snipe. Malkin would add an empty netter for the hat trick. The Islanders would add "check Crosby, Malkin" to their list of "Things To Figure Out."
- The Penguins powerplay was tic-tac-toeing in goals all night. Three sweet conversions, plus an empty-netter that came when the Isles were trying to tie it up late after Sutton's major. The Isles didn't deserve all the penalties they received, but they lost this game by playing a tepid first 30 minutes that put them in the hole.
- Nice to see: Sutton and Freddy Meyer each score on cannon shots, Sutton's straight-up over Johnson's shoulder, Meyer's on a nice feed from Blake Comeau. Trent Hunter and Richard Park also scored to complete the good guy scoring. Notably absent from that tally was the Okposo-John Tavares-Josh Bailey line, which was held in check. (Not for a lack of trying: Okopso had seven shots on goal.)
- Crosby and Malkin: Not held in check. Crosby (six points, including an empty-net assist) is not exactly the easiest guy to track, but the Isles' miscommunication and/or poor hand-off of responsibility left Crosby wide open twice for even strength goals. Once it was a Bailey/Jack Hillen problem, the other time it was a /Hillen problem. On the game-winner, the Islanders PK had three guys lined up at the blueline yet allowed a charging Crosby to gain the blueline unchallenged. That's a no-no.
- My Daily Frans Love: Nice pressure by Josh Bailey at the end of a shift and sweet poke by crafty Frans Nielsen to set up Hunter's goal one minute into the third. Bailey and Okposo helped set the tone on that period-opening shift, Nielsen and Hunter finished the deal to bring the Isles within one.
- Memo to Roloson: I know it's a bad angle, but Malkin is deadly from that spot.
- Last Gasp: Given the challenge of tying the game while shorthanded for the rest of the game, the Islanders didn't do half-bad in the final minutes. Malkin was only open for his empty-netter because Hillen had just made a nice hit to strip him of the puck and leave him prone.
- Maybe I'll Learn: There I was defending Crosby, and he goes and whines after the Park goal, then continues to bark at Richard Park as if he did something dirty. Tsk.
The Sutton-Dupuis Hit
(A hit you won't see in the game highlights above, because the league wouldn't dare acknowledge that violence happens, it wouldn't dare show you the play most people will be talking about, and it wouldn't dare readily divulge evidence for a play on which its discipline czar may make an absurd decision. So here's a YouTube clip.)
This was a "new NHL" play that old-timers rant about: Dupuis used the shelter provided by the check-from-behind rule to turn his back and try to protect the puck. Sutton -- having no incentive to send a "statement hit" at this critical juncture -- likely expected Dupuis to turn and reverse direction, when instead Dupuis held up to protect the puck (and use the "you can't hit me" shelter of having your back to a defender). Sutton, a big man, drove him into the boards from behind. That's a penalty. The burden is on the defenseman here to hold up. See the numbers, hold up. It makes the defenseman's job harder, but the alternative puts players' health at unacceptable risk.
I accept that this play happens in every game -- with less force -- and perhaps what might have been a minor or double-minor boarding was elevated because Dupuis' face hit the corner of the boards. But a pool of blood and a possible concussion does that. Do I think there should be a suspension? Initially, no. It wasn't malicious, it was careless, and there's a difference. A bang-bang play -- no strides taken to build momentum -- from a guy who makes big hits but typically keeps them clean. But after multiple reviews I can see this receiving a game, maybe two, depending on which universe the NHL is in at a given moment in space-time. (Who knows? What standard does the NHL have? It's like predicting next week's weather.) Do I expect Colin Campbell to deliver a suspension? Depends upon the week. It struck me as a "hockey play" gone wrong, which Colin The Dice Roller typically empathizes with. But when he's taking heat for his other idiotic decisions, he doesn't typically show leniency to the Islanders. I expect to be appalled.
In Which We Whine about Officiating
Other than that Sutton call, the penalties were ... odd. A mix of bad calls by the refs and poor discipline by the Islanders. Taking too many men on the ice to put yourself down 5-on-3 is never acceptable -- that was the Isles' biggest misstep with the penal code, and it cost them.
The refs' worst misstep was the one that made the difference: With 9:15 left in the game, score tied 4-4, Kyle Okposo was checking a winger. Jordan Staal provided support and helped pinch (and interfere with) Okposo's space, causing contact where the other Penguin went down meekly. The Pens scored on the ensuing powerplay -- their third PP goal of the night.
Almost as irritating, the refs quickly delivered a "make-up" call on an even softer "trip" of Blake Comeau, putting Matt Cooke in the box. Memo to NHL refs: If you want to tinker with a great tied game by making weak calls along the perimeter, resist that urge. Restrain yourself. If you're call was so weak and game-changing that you feel compelled to even it up with a soft call in return, perhaps you should reconsider the way you're approaching the game. Take a step back.
I don't typically harp on the game-long competence of the refs, but when an official calls a goalie for smothering the puck three minutes into a game, I get the sense he's come in with the urge to stamp his authority on this game. Which is odd, since these two division rivals typically play each other pretty cleanly. They don't exactly need a warning to watch the funny business ... a warning like "Hey goalie, I'm watching you and that glove you have. You better not let it get out of control and cover too many pucks." Boy, Marouelli sure taught Roloson a much-needed lesson there.
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Whatever. A bump in the road, with a chance to get back rolling Thursday against the Panthers. A "moral win" with the three-goal comeback. The Islanders have now played the defending Stanley Cup champions three times, and each game has been a dogfight (shootout loss in the home opener, come-from-behind win in November, and a two-goal third-period comeback tonight). That's a good sign.