Calm. That's what Dwayne Roloson showed me tonight through all of his ridiculous saves. Calm.
Even amid the miscommunication with Bruno Gervais, when Roloson went behind the net and played it to the corner but Gervais instead headed to guard the net (Mark Streit was also headed behind the net, on the other side), which led to Matt Duchene having an almost-open-net-except-for-that-glove.
Yes, even on that flustercuck of a play, Roloson did not panic: He just calmly slipped back toward the net, diving to glove Duchene's shot as if easing into a plush chaise lounge.
Enthusiasm. That's what Rob Schremp's play showed me tonight. Not "aren't I a hot dangler?" enthusiasm, but enthusiasm for playing this great game. And he did have a great game: He created the offense that led to Jon Sim's goal (shot distance: 2.5 feet), he extended offensive chances with his stickhandling, and of course, he scored The Goal. A goal that probably only he or fellow lacrosse vet John Tavares scores. It might've been Schremp's best game as an Islander even without that goal, but The Goal adds a nice identifier to it.
But all my faux-baseball-columnist blathering leaves out the biggest, most fundamentally sound play of the night: Kyle Okposo's perfect execution of a 3-on-2 for the game-winner with 3:17 left to go.
Tonight I knew Okposo had his hooks in me as a fan when I stood up from the couch with anticipation as he curled toward the slot, and I instinctively did the celebratory K.O. kneel-and-fist-pump a second before he did it to revel in the game-winning goal.
Of that line with Blake Comeau and John Tavares, only Okposo got a point on the play. But that 3-on-2 was a coach's dream: All three gain the line with speed, Comeau accelerates to the net to provide a passing option and take a defenseman with him. Tavares angles away from Okposo to draw Scott Hannan with him. Okposo, seeing Hannan back off to watch the dangerous Tavares, doesn't rush a shot -- but instead takes the space now yielded to him, giving himself a much better angle, allowing him to take the time needed to pot a perfect shot upstairs. Magnificent. Enjoy:
Kyle Okposo Game-Winning Goal
But Roloson was the game-long hero, from period 1 to period 3. His fantastic saves are spread throughout the game highlights video. Some nights, you know the goalie did well because: "OMG! 43 saves!" Tonight it was all about the quality of the 30 shots he saved.
can't even really shouldn't try to describe them, so might as well watch the best ones:
Some Improvement, Some Stasis
Powerplay: To me, the powerplay looked marginally better last night. They still have trouble gaining the zone, but once there, Doug Weight's magic hands appear to create more space at the point both for himself and Mark Streit. The Isles only received two opportunities from a most curious officiating crew, so 1 for 2 isn't half bad.
Playing with the Lead: The Islanders again took a lead into the third period -- and a 28-18 shot advantage -- yet let the opponent dictate play in the third. This is an issue for every NHL team: It's simply nature to close up a bit, while it's the nature of the trailing team to throw the kitchen sink at you. But I could have handled more assertiveness. In fact, after regaining the lead on Okposo's goal, the Isles had a couple of very good shifts where they actually forced the play in the Avs zone instead of sitting back to watch things in their own.
Hitting, and Fighting: Andy Sutton's trademark blueline hipcheck on Chris Stewart was effective, even if it knocked his own wind out. Short-term grinder Mark Rycroft, adjusting to life on the Avalanche post-game broadcast, said:
"If Sutton doesn’t have a broken hand, [his refusal to fight Stewart later] is a bit of an embarrassment to the [Islanders] organization."
Wrong. This is the voice of the (brief) career agitator or the bloodthirsty fan. In reality, when you deliver a clean, hard check on an opponent who had 25 unpressured feet of ice to keep his head up, you are under no such obligation to fight him. When you are part of a blueline that is as thin as the Islanders', you are almost obliged not to fight him in a close game, putting yourself out of the rotation for five minutes.
Truly, despite my nuanced complaints, I'm fine with fighting's place in this game. But I am not fine with the way it serves as a crutch for so many players, announcers and fans who pretend it is the answer to everything, that it is some kind of magic cure for all ills and slights. Sometimes you have to fight to answer what you've done; sometimes you have to turn away when someone wants to fight just because he's embarrassed he got his shit rocked.
The Goaltending: So Roloson was fantastic -- I mean really, how many times has he delivered performances that were greater than anything we had last year? But intriguingly, Rick DiPietro was dressed as his backup. I think he starts Friday in Dallas.
On the NHL Network, they said Garth Snow is already taking calls for Martin Biron, and "some say the front-runner appears to be Edmonton," but DiPietro hasn't even proven that it's safe to sell that insurance policy yet. So I think we have a ways to go there. That said, Edmonton? Sure, they need goaltending (hmmm...now who did they have last year?), but is it worth an asset just to turn an awful season into a bad season? They may be better off ensuring their lottery pick and defining once and for all what they currently have in goal.
This Beat Goes On, to Big D
Next, the Islanders move on to Dallas. The Islanders need to thump the Stars if for no other reason than because the Stars just let Sean Avery get some serious revenge on the team that overpaid him when the Rangers wouldn't. How sad is it that Avery needs that kind of stimuli to play up to his talent level?
Despite Larry Brooks' constant pleas to let Avery be his natural dirtbag self (because a dirtbag Avery is an effective Avery), I won't buy him as an NHL player worth tolerating until he can deliver a quality performance in a game where he doesn't have an ax to grind or a manufactured offense to avenge. That said, cheers to Stan Fischler for pressing Avery in the post-game. Sometimes, Fischler's still got it; sometimes, Avery acts like an adult with a pinch of wit.
That was a fun game to watch. Neither John Tavares nor Matt Duchene got on the scoresheet, but both showed why they were top picks. The Tavares-Comeau-Okposo line had some enticing moments, enough where I'd like them to stay together. Andrew MacDonald continues to play quietly effective defense, a subtle but essential ingredient on a functional blueline.
The road gets harder here, but between the goalies, the kids, and the returning injuries, there are a lot of reasons to tune in and watch this little baby grow.
What keeps you watching?