This is why single hockey games don't make sense, why it's sisyphean to make grand proclamations of certainty based on a few games, a few shifts, or a few lines: A team that had nine 5-on-5 goals in 10 games puts up four in one night (plus an empty-netter) against a 9-2 team that had conceded just 17 in that setting.
Despite a six-game winless streak, the Islanders had outchanced opponents in recent games, so the dramatic line shake-up Jack Capuano instituted may not have been necessary to tip the scales. But four goals later, it sure didn't hurt. In compiling an impressive come-from-behind 5-3 win, the Islanders outshot the Capitals 30-27 at even strength.
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The new combo of Frans Nielsen flanked by P.A. Parenteau and Brian Rolston led the way with three goals and nine shots. Matt Martin's go-ahead goal did not stand up as the winner, but it typified that to-the-net battle level that Islanders fans want to see from the rest of the forward corps.
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Also: Tavares on getting to play with Grabner (posted before last night's game)
Luck, you say?
Tonight the Islanders were hindered, then helped by hockey's bounces and flukes: Joel Ward's opening goal undermined an even start when it went in off Marty Reasoner's stick and up over Rick DiPietro. A joke of a five-minute boarding call on P.A. Parenteau ignited an exchange of penalties (even-up calls?) in a sequence that ended in an Alex Ovechkin blast from the blueline that found its way through Mark Eatons legs and clean past DiPietro.
That one brought down a burst of chants for Al Montoya, who hasn't played since the blowout in Tampa Bay but still retains the best stats of the three goalies thus far.
(By the way, the way Mark Streit, Nielsen, Milan Jurcina et al managed the puck on Ward's delayed penalty to eat away some of the Parenteau major was just nice, smart hockey.)
But for once, the second period swung the pendulum the other way, in no small thanks to the Islanders coming out like a two-goal deficit would not keep this scoring-deprived team down: In the opening minutes, Nielsen was allowed to waltz through the Capitals defense, get a shot from the slot that produced a fat rebound, and scoop said rebound by Tomas Vokoun on a low backhand.
At the other end of the second period, a Rolston slapshot actually hit the net -- and went in. Vokoun may have wanted both of those goals back, but he can take solace that he lacks DiPietro's fanbase.
It would've been too good to be true for Martin's goal to complete the comeback and hold up as the game-winner. Brooks Laich prevented that by placing a left wing-circle powerplay shot over DiPietro's shoulder (which came on the Caps' other powerplay, a head-scratching call on Steve Staios. Generally, the officials perplexed both teams equally on a night where they appeared to want to do just enough to make the game sheet look like they were indeed there.)
That only set the table for Parenteau's late heroics, and Tavares's late freebie to finish the Caps off.
- A second consecutive uneven game defensively from Travis Hamonic, who has done a bit too much playing the puck (and missing) instead of the body lately. His usual nice stuff on offense and moving the puck though.
- John Tavares tied ex-Cap Milan Jurcina for the team lead in shots on target; JT's fourth and final one was his easiest.
- Alex Ovechkin erased two minutes of the Parenteau major by retaliating well after the play to knock Parenteau down, which was either great frontier justice or straight-up foolishness depending on 1) your view of such things and 2) whether you think Roman Hamrlik, who played over 21 minutes, milked that sequence for all he could.
- It must be asked: Does Frans Nielsen just plain make all who accompany him better?
- ...and if so, yikes how much is he going to command as a pending UFA?
- DiPietro: The first high goal was a bad break off of Reasoner's stick. But the third one -- unless Brooks Laich had traffic (Hamonic was there) to shoot through, that looked like a specific decision to wait and shoot high, which could be exposing a flaw if DiPietro is consistently going down too early.
- Josh Bailey and Blake Comeau remain under the microscope, but it's true both have progressed in recent games. And what's this? Bailey got a point tonight. A point! (On a second assist, on Martin's goal.)
- Line matching: Speaking of Bailey, his and Reasoner's lines faced Alex Ovechkin most, but on the backline Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald drew the bulk of that assignment.
- Lines overall: Generally, the new lines provided a few different looks, but as Capuano would probably say they were all still playing the same general style and system he's asked them to play all season. No single-game pronouncements about brilliance or idiocy from this corner of the room.
- Craziest sight: Old man Rolston sucking from the (oxygen?) can on the bench after his goal.
- Matt Martin: His goal was not only nice work, but a nice reward for a player who has done everything asked this season, one who has looked alive in every single game. Earned a chant of his name from the crowd for a guy embracing the energy role.
- Fun Small-Sample Stat: Parenteau is now second on the team with 11 points (2 g, 9 a). Three of those points came when he was nowhere near "true first line" center John Tavares...
- ...more PAP: Seriously though, how great was Parenteau on that goal? He created the whole sequence by taking the puck 1-on-4 into the Caps zone during an Isles line change ... then distributed the puck to the safe place and stuck around in the right area when Milan Jurcina blasted Nielen's pass from the point. PAP-PAP, hooray.
- The Goalie-Go-Round: So it was no superb game from DiPietro, but he is the night's declared winner with 25 saves. Not that wins or losses have determined starts so far this season, but does this mean Capuano gives him a fourth straight start like he gave the others?
What They Said
Boudreau: "We had them ... but we let them get back in the game. . . . You let a team in, especially a team that’s been losing, and they feel it and you’re in trouble."
Vokoun: "The first two and the fourth one, you can’t win when your goalie gives up three bad goals."
Money Quote: Jack Capuano
"I don't think it's a relief for me. Just for the guys, because I know they've worked extremely hard over the last couple games and I know they haven't gotten the goals or the results that they wanted. For our coaching staff we're happy that we won the game, but for the guys it's really important."
Given the players had been doing a lot of things well before tonight, getting pucks to the net ... why change the lines up then? Probably because players are people, not robots. Humans with brains, rather than widgets to process
I'm not sure these are lines Capuano will want to stick with for long, but if the players overall are doing the assignments he's laid out for them -- regardless of line assignment -- then the mental/psychological relief may be worth the temporary disruption in everyone's routine.
Call back from the game preview:
Nielsen and Parenteau are two of the better puck managers on the team, so if you can't do good things with them, there's no hope.
Heh, I guess Rolston bought himself a bit of hope.
For all the happy talk though, this game turns either direction if not for Parenteau scoring a Martin-like goal with just 1:46 left in the game. That's how thin the margin is in most NHL games. Which is probably worth remembering as this 82-game journey marches onward.
Next Up: The Milbury Experience
Versus is trolling you, Islanders Country: Mike Milbury will be in the booth for Monday's game in Boston. They actually did advance PR about this move (which means my mentioning it achieves exactly what they're after).
Television and the lowest common denominator are seldom far apart.