"Surely Dwayne Roloson won't be called upon to make 58 saves again, will he?" Such was the pre-game talk.
In the end, it wasn't nearly that absurd. But Roloson indeed stood on his head again in Toronto to set up an OT win in a game where the Islanders were outplayed for several stretches. Last year it was Josh Bailey with the OT marker; this year Bailey left mid-way with a hip flexor injury (of course), so it was John Tavares' turn, on an OT powerplay.
A waived-off high stick goal here, a goalline-tickling puck there: Roloson needed the bit of luck every goalie needs to shut the door, but man oh man did he make some stunning saves. You can pick through them bit by bit through the save links on the NHL's "ice tracker" page. Or you can watch the highlights below in one stream.
While this wasn't a 61-shot shooting gallery like the Big Roloson game last year, the Islanders did lots of little things that enabled extended Leafs pressure. Namely, transition mistakes and poor breakouts. The defense was under pressure from the Leafs forwards' speed (and boy was this a fast game between these two teams), while the Isles forwards were vacating the zone too quickly, creating the bad combo of 1) rushed defensemen passes and 2) no one in the right position to accept them. Leading to: 3) turnovers and Leafs scoring chances.
Now this wasn't a problem all night long, but it was a problem in repeat stretches. Then when the Islanders entered the third period with a 1-0 lead, they sat back too much and let the Leafs come at them in waves until the Law of Averages saw them finally tie it on the powerplay after a blocked point shot went right to Phil Kessel, much like P.A. Parenteau's goal against the Rangers.
There's no excusing all this -- and I particularly noticed Parenteau and Blake Comeau had less assertive games than you expect from your top line's wingers -- but it's possible Bailey's early injury gummed things up enough to at least explain it a little. Bailey's been their best forward recently (so you just knew he'd get injured), so everyone else had to fill the void. Old captain Doug Weight played 16:43 EV minutes (plus 2:18 PP), and they were some hard minutes on the receiving end of multiple collisions.
But by bending long enough before breaking with 2:05 left in regulation, the Islanders made it to OT where they took advantage of a 4-on-3 powerplay thanks to Brett Lebda's goalie interference call. (Which I confess I didn't see, as I was distracted by calling in for a guest spot on Rink Side Radio. Was it fair? (the call, not my guest spot.))
That's when we saw the pinpoint John Tavares shot we see every now and then, and that was that: Run of play to the Leafs, two points to the Isles. Kind of nice to be on the right side of luck once in a while, isn't it?
Speaking of Luck
- I'm not sure the Versteeg waive-off was really a high stick when he touched it. The standard for a goal is the crossbar, the standard for open play is the player's shoulder. It was close to his shoulder, but I'm not sure if it was there. Judgment call before the goal. Good break for the Isles.
- Ron Wilson was irate after the game about the other "waived-off" goal, but here's the thing: It wasn't a goal by any definition. First, the puck never crossed the line, skirting by Roloson's pads along the line and to the opposite post. Second, WIlson's other complaint -- that Tavares gloved it in the crease -- also did not actually happen. Upon further review even the Leafs announcers agreed that Tavares tried to glove it, but never actually did because the puck caromed off the post and beyond his body without the need for his own propulsion. Still, it's not like Wilson could blame the loss on his team's effort, so rants like that score points and soothe wounds.
- The Lebda Call: Like I said I didn't see it, but it sounded like some tough luck. Those are always an issue: A 4-on-3 is just a devastating PK and it's all the more significant when the game is on the line. It's nice to be on the other side of the coin though after the awful call that put the Isles on the PK in OT in Pittsburgh. What comes around goes around, but it doesn't always snag the right victim.
People have taken to doing their own plus/minuses here in comments, and I encourage that. Don't think there were as many "pluses" tonight as you'd normally have after a win, so I'm curious what you have. So have at it, but I'll give two:
- Michael Grabner impressed me by using his speed (yeah, again, I know) to make plays, beat players to loose pucks -- and not shy away from contact. We want him to score some, but if he's doing smart things that's a good place to start.
- Radek Martinek -- We mention him (and Mark Eaton, too) every game it seems, but another relatively strong performance playing 11 EV minutes against Kessel, Bozak and Kris Versteeg. To be clear, a look at the Corsi sheet looks like several animals were slaughtered on the page, and the Leafs' big line had their share of chances. Roloson was most important for bailing everyone out, but I thought Martinek did pretty well (again) controlling what he could control even while his forwards weren't always helping.
- #Mightymattmoulson -- Nice hands around the net, again, on a great passing play from Tavares and Frans Nielsen.
Oh, and lest I forget in my focus on how the Isles played: The bottom line is they got two points in Game 1 of this road stretch. They're still in first place, they have a positive goal differential, they're getting scoring from a lot of places, they converted a golden PP-in-OT opportunity, and Rollie is the Rollie we remember from last year's first half.
Now that, my friends, makes for a nice night.
The Game Thread
Thanks to everyone participating in the game thread and the PPP invasion during the second, taking it all in good fun. Sorry if I barked at anyone -- my cable company is driving me up the wall right now, so I was irritable -- but I try to "police" what I can as quickly as possible without taking away from my enjoyment of the game. I know people have differing opinions on how those work; some people welcome them, some hate them. So how about this: Maybe next time a visitor "field trip" is requested, we run two threads -- one for those keeping it in-house, and one for those who want to banter with the visitors? If you have an opinion, let me know.