The New York Islanders put a nice wee thumping on the Avalanche (who haven't won at the Coliseum in ages), helped by scoring from a surprising source and the Avs' reluctance to avail themselves of a fresh copy of the rulebook.
John Tavares was eased carefully back into the lineup after his head injury, but no worries -- Josh Bailey simply kept doin' what he was doin', picking up a goal and an assist. His goal came late in the second on the powerplay, the Isles' third goal of the game, as the Avs continued to take silly penalties -- think Matt Cooke-style goalie interference carelessness -- that broke up the rhythm of an otherwise even first 30 minutes.
Bailey's assist came midway through the second period on a key faceoff win in the offensive zone, shorthanded, to set up Milan Jurcina's first goal of the game. (I'll say that again: Milan Jurcina's first goal of the game.)
The Islanders are averaging 3.6 goals per game (including two ENG) through five games. Their 5-on-5 goal differential (0.86) isn't grand, but it's better than it's been the last two seasons, potentially a sign of an increasingly competitive team.
Perhaps better: As WebBard first noted in the game thread, the Islanders' third periods are night and day compared to the past two seasons. (Thus far: 7 GF, 5 GA. Last year: A league-worst 53 GF and 91 GA.) Tonight they entered tonight's third with a somewhat fortuitous 3-0 lead, and they did as leading teams often do -- they held back a bit and were outshot -- but each time the Avs stole a goal back, the Islanders answered. Tavares' empty-net goal finished off a game that for most of the third never appeared in doubt.
Michael Grabner got his first goal, with a beautifully placed sharp-angle shot
overthrough Craig Anderson's shoulderlegs/arm-ish area [Hiccup. Apparently I didn't see that one well.]. It was on a 2-on-1, but the pass he received was no gimme, not even an easy one to collect, much less convert.
- Dwayne Roloson: We saw the traditional baseball-swing clear from him, and he was generally solid throughout. The first goal he'd surely like to have back -- a Chris Stewart laser over his shoulder -- but he never elicited worry.
Milan Jurcina. I mean, Milan Jurcina! Two goals. Each opportunistic heavy shots from the right side. The second might have been better, as he took advantage of Anderson's search for his missing stick by pinching in down the half boards and firing from a sharp angle. He's taken some flak in some corners here, and I'm sure two goals doesn't absolve him. But he's made some plays and used his size for blocks, where I can see why the Isles like him as a #6/7 guy. At the moment, with another 4:04 on the PK tonight, he appears to be their main shot-blocker on that unit.
- Matt Who? This is tongue-in-cheek, but apparently a year later some Avs fans are waaaay more focused on "Tavares or Duchene?" than we have (ever?) been. It hasn't been brought up around here since last year; the project of team-building marches on. But for the team that actually had that decision in front of them: Hedman v. Tavares is another discussion, but at the time you knewl why the Isles would lean toward JT over Duchene, based on their different skill sets: The Islanders already had a two-way project at center. You may have noticed him wearing #12 tonight.
- JT Returns: Tavares looked good on the powerplay -- he and James Wisniewski were both welcome returnees to that unit. After a week off, JT was eased back in by Scott Gordon. He still ended up with 18:47 TOI, almost a third of that on the powerplay.
- Mr. Schremp, can you try wing? With Bailey doing so well at center, and off to such a good start, you start to wonder if Rob Schremp gets repurposed again when he returns to health. Tavares-Bailey-Frans is the 1-2-3 center combo we've long dreamed would be, well, a dream. If those three are each ready to run with their roles...well we'll get there when we get there. Just five games. Breath easy, grasshopper.
- Zenon: Is Zenon Konopka making a habit of building bad blood in warmups? He and Stewart jawed in pre-game, enough that they had a prearranged fight at the opening faceoff. Alright. He finished 13-7 in the faceoff circle, his unique skill there again helping get some big clears on the PK.
- Let's Not Get Physical, Physical: There was no hitting in this game. Seriously. Even the scoresheet only registered 6 hits per side. Two teams that aren't rivals, each playing on back-to-back travel nights, just agreeing to keep the bumping to a minimum?
And with that, the Islanders are in first place in the Atlantic after, heh, all of five games. Still, this was a must-win for a club that is facing a long road march through the majority of this month and the beginning of the next one. Considering all their injury issues, they need to grab points when they're made available, and the Avs certainly left them there for the taking.
Next test is Monday in Toronto, who if you haven't noticed, is off to a fantastic start.