After the Islanders' first win in December, Rick DiPietro said: "You can say whatever you want, but it's a whole different game when you can get the lead." True in most sports; few more so than in hockey. Every team in the NHL benefits from score effects -- you can afford to be more conservative with the lead -- but it's especially relevant for teams that don't have the firepower (to say nothing of the confidence) to overcome deficits. Thankfully the Islanders' first-period lead was a big one, because they needed every bit of that 3-0 cushion to withstand the Ducks' comeback.
It's the classic conundrum every hockey team faces, from beer league to the best league in the world: We have a lead. We should really just keep doing what we did to earn it. Except there is always a bit of luck and fortune in "earning" it. And maybe our luck will run out. So maybe we don't look a gift horse in the mouth -- maybe we let off the gas a bit, play it safe, and reduce the chances of luck going the opponents' way?
Of course in hockey, everything is a cascade of little factors combining to make an observable but tough-to-define whole. One guy lets up, his linemate pursues less aggressively, his teammate worries about doing what the coach just told him not to do, then an opponent notices a collectively bigger opening, and suddenly rational beings talk about things like "momentum" and "being on our heels." The Ducks, relying heavily on their top line -- although that wasn't the line that got two goals back -- grabbed the momentum and put the Isles on their heels.
But it wasn't enough. The Islanders held on. It's a whole different game when you can get the lead.
Brief Expressions of Jubilation and Relief
- The Blueline: Radek Martinek's return was a welcome sight for obvious reasons, but before the game I thought it was important so that still-green Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald weren't charged with the Ducks top line. Wrong. Jack Capuano sent those two out against Getzlaf/Perry/Ryan quite a bit, and they handled it well. Meanwhile, Martinek's two-way steadiness was deployed to watch over James Wisniewski. Nice. (I'll resist the nightly urge to picture Mark Streit at the head of this group.)
In other words, Andrew MacDonald was an absolute stud. No one who watched this game and knew his name could avoid talking about him. I had the pleasure of hearing Chris King's play-by-play in the car during the third, and King raved about him. Rightly so. So did Howie, our commenters, the local recappers -- everyone. The guy with zero traditional boxscore stats was a consensus star, with a team-high 25:53, 8 blocked shots, 5 takeaways (shady as that stat is), and much of it with a rookie by his side. (Impressive rookie, but still.)
I vividly remember the game when I started to seriously consider that A-Mac might be much more than the emergency callup I'd figured him as in 2008-09: Last season, on the Islanders visit to St. Louis, I saw in person how many different little smart plays he made. Since he was paired with Mark Streit, I worried it might just be Streit Effect. But nope, A-Mac knows what he's doing out there, and I suspect that's why Garth Snow signed him to The Frans Contract, for four years at a bargain rate.
- The guys with the A's: It's a nice symbol that Frans Nielsen and Andrew MacDonald are wearing the A's right now. They've been this team's best, most reliable all-around players.
- Whoops: Brandon MacMillan's penalty for shoveling Rick DiPietro's stick out of the way was hilariously stupid.
Speaking of DP: He had some good luck early, and some big saves late. Nice game (30 saves), although "first star" was a stretch, but it's hard to blame the in-house crew for that. In this day and age it still takes bold spirit to name a defenseman who had zero points first star.
- Personal Doghouse: I've been critical of Blake Comeau lately, so he deserves praise for a strong game, even outside of his goal and the shot off the crossbar.
Rob Schremp Hockey, on the other hand, had some poor decision-making moments as noted in the game thread and by Capuano himself. "Work in progress" is still the best way to describe him, I think. But "under 70 NHL games" is the key fact about him. It's fun to watch him learn and adjust, and it's going to be a while before we know if he's adjusted well enough to this league.
- Personal Joy: DiPietro calling Juice and Martinek "the two lovebirds" in the post-game. Don't know what that's about, but any time a Czech and Slovak can be described as such, all of beer-drinking Central Europe wins. Those two were the intermission interviews, too, and I loved every awkward second of it.
- Matt Martin Smash: Martin hit everything in sight, and it forced the Ducks to address the matter, first with a Brookbank-Gillies fight, then with a Parros "enough is enough" fight. Job well done. His hitting like that early is just a little signal of, "Just so you know, we came to play, so if you guys want to take the night off that's cool." It got Corey Perry to do silly things.
- Powerplay: Baby Steps...: Just nice work on that powerplay overall. A little more purpose, a little more decisive puck-handling. John Tavares's pass to P.A. Parenteau took a deflection on its way to intended target Matt Moulson, but the intention was there and effective: JT and PAP played catch a little bit, created some space around the net, and got a PP goal as a reward.
OverspeedForecheck!: Both Comeau's goal and Moulson's goal were the result of solid, smart forechecking by their linemates (Jon Sim and Rob Schremp on the former, Parenteau on the latter).
- For the timeout fans: With the Isles up 3-0, Capuano called a timeout early in the second period as the Isles came out like a team that hasn't had a 3-0 lead in eons. Not sure it made a difference, but the message was there: Settle down, play smart, and stop pinching yourself because you actually have a big lead.
- Unfortunately there was no extra timeout to use at the start of the third, as the Ducks dominated the opening shifts and scored on the second. Jason Blake & the Fist-Pump, of course.
- FIG: Cheers to 54_Fighting for winning the FIG. Only one to pick Parenteau.
- A-Mac's Coming Out Party [Okposo Net]
- Jack Capuano shook the stars' hands after the game. It was Cap's second NHL win. [7th Woman]
- Second win in 22 games [Newsday, temporarily not $5 please]
- 99 seconds and the Isles upped their season-long first-period goal tally by 25% [The Skinny - Hornick]
- Naughty MacMillan. [Anaheim Calling]
Beyond all that, the way the Isles protected the lead after gaining it with a nice forecheck was alarming, and the coach and the goalie and the rest of the team know that. It's a challenge that every team faces, so no shock it happened to a team that had its first 3-0 lead in ages. Baby steps.
For now, joy and relief. The Islanders have won one.