The Islanders rode an early lead and a dominant first period all the way to their first two points of the season.
But eight minor penalties by seven different Islanders meant getting there required a lot of trench work just to hold on for a 2-1 win over the Wild on Kids Day afternoon at the Coliseum.
The key was heroic penalty killing by the Islanders -- only four Wild PP shots hit the net, including just one on a 44-second-long 5-on-3. That work was typified by an inside-of-the-boot (ouch) shot block by Travis Hamonic at point-blank range mid-way through the 3rd period.
At forward, Jay Pandolfo led the way (4:30) with Brian Rolston, Marty Reasoner and Frans Nielsen each also logging well over three minutes of PK time. Great work to cover up for a collective failure to stay out of the box. [Evening edit: Upon further review, some of those penalty calls were flat-out awful, including Marty Reasoner's hook that created the 5-on-3 -- and came milliseconds after the same man tied their sticks up with a downward slash.]
An Early Lead
On one of just three Islanders powerplay opportunities of the day, Andrew MacDonald cashed in quickly half-way through the first period by identifying a thickening screen on Niklas Backstrom and placing his point shot just inside the far post.
Under two minutes later, the John Tavares line at the end of its shift helped hem the Wild in, a fortunate bounce ensured the puck stayed in through the beginning of their line change, and P.A. Parenteau won the puck along the boards back to Mark Streit. Streit, working with space, slap-passed to Frans Nielsen's awaiting backhand, which redirected the puck cooly into the top corner for the 2-0 lead and, ultimately, the game-winning goal.
Or, as hockeyisland put it in our LHH game thread:
Can't believe I just witnessed
a swiss slap pass of splendor right to a wide open danish back hand of judgment...
(Maybe you had to be there, but in the moment that made my day.)
The Game Gets Closer
The ice was, in the parlance of our times, tilted in favor of the Islanders for most of the first period, with shots 9-2. That produced a 2-0 lead but also a timeout from Jack Capuano as the Wild started to take control toward the end of the first. The second period brought the Islanders penalty parade -- four minors in that frame alone -- reflecting a reversal in the flow of play and a 10-2 shot advantage for the Wild.
After surviving that you might've thought the Islanders would bounce back in the third, but that thought was cut off just over a minute in with the the Wild's only goal:
John Tavares got a little too dangerous with the puck at the Wild blueline, forcing a tricky play for Steve Staios who was unable to keep it in the zone, leading to a break the other way. Staios stayed apace with puck carrier Guillaume Latendresse and the puck bobbled on him -- which is where some real ingenuity came into play. Latendresse dropped it back to Matt Cullen, who whacked a still-wobbly puck over Al Montoya's shoulder. The rough ice nearly sabotaged the play but in the end helped ensure its success.
Montoya was good in making 20 saves, but his PK teammates were also huge in keeping so few Wild shots from hitting the net. It looked like the 5-on-3 kill was also aided by some choppy ice that kept the Wild from settling the puck as much as you'd expect the "hands" unit to be able to do.
Travis Hamonic was a beast: Led the team in TOI (23:16), put four shots on goal, blocked three, drew a penalty -- yes, the kid is alright at age 21. I guess.
Holding On: The Siren Song of the Empty Net
Wild coach Mike Yeo pulled his goalie early to try to get that equalizer, but for the Islanders on the ice, led first by Blake Comeau and followed by Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen and Michael Grabner, that empty net was a rocky place where their seed could find no purchase.
Empty nets are a funny thing: If you can hit the spot, great! Go for it. Relinquish the puck and ice the game. But everyone has to identify that thin line between while also exhibiting smart puck management. For the most part the Isles did that, keeping the Wild on their heels and not forcing shots. Comeau did try to put it through Jared Spurgeon -- it's just little Spurgeon! -- from center ice, but Spurgeon was bigger than that and blocked it. Grabner almost completed a wraparound -- four Wild skates somehow kept it out -- and finally iced the game with the smartest play of all: A soft, banked dump off the boards from his blueline rather than anything that risked an icing and late faceoff.
It was a hectic second period and a hectic finish, but in the end you have the Islanders' first victory of the season. Plus, plenty more to work on between now and Thursday, when the much better Lightning visit next.
Note: Go ahead and get your plus/minus on and usual routine in this thread. The game thread's all filled up, and day games always disrupt the schedule anyway.